tv Book TV In Depth CSPAN November 6, 2011 12:00pm-3:00pm EST
>> ben mezrich is the author of six nonfiction books and six novembers. his nonfiction titles include "the accidental billionaires," "bringing down the house," and his newest release, "sex on the moon." >> host: ben mezrich, where did you find the story of "the accidental billionaires"? >> guest: you know, that one actually came at random, a random e-mail, 2 in the morning. i was sitting at home, and it was a harvard stupid, and he said -- student, and he said my best friend founded facebook, and no one's ever heard of him. >> host: when was this? >> guest: wow, it had to have
been -- it gets all mixed up because of "the social network" movie. i guess about two years before the movie came out, so 2008 or so? it was right before the movie "21" came out. the e-mail was right out of the blue, and my wife had forced me to be on face wook, so -- facebook, so i knew what it was. so i went out to work with this guy, and it was eduardo who andrew garfield play inside the movie, and he was angry. he was really angry. um, and a little drunk. and he wanted to tell me a story, and that's how i got into it. >> host: why did he send an e-mail to you? >> guest: well, i've become kind of the go-to guy for every college kid who does something ridiculous or crazy because of my books. i guess they have a big college audience, and these kids want to tell their story. and so i've kind of become that guy that when someone, you know, knocks over a lottery, you know, scam or whatever it is, they'll
call me. so i get 30 or 40 of these a week. this was just one of them. and usually they're lame, they're not something i would want to do, but this was one that really caught my eye. >> host: so you went out, had drinks with eduardo. >> guest: and his buddy will, will was the one who sent me the e-mail. and eduardo started to tell me this story. and i knew nothing about how facebook had been founded. he started to tell me that he and his best friend had met in an underground fraternity. it was mark zuckerberg, and they were all kind of geek can key guys -- geeky guys. eduardo wanted to be one of the finals clubs, all-male institutions like the skull and bones at yale. and he wanted to be a member. mark didn't really have a shot at being a member, and eduardo got into one of the finals clubs, and mark went on a really bad date, got dumped and when he got home, he hacked into all the
computers at harvard and pulled up pictures of every girl on campus and made a web site. it was like a hot or not web site, it was called face mash. and, you know, you could pick the hot e girl at harvard. and it was like a prank. it leaked out over the internet, and everyone at harvard logged in at the same time, and it crashed harvard's computer serve's. and he became, you know, notorious on campus for that. and that was kind of the beginning in a lot of ways of facebook. and that's when he caught the anticipation of the winklevoss twins who you could not invent if you wanted to. they are right out of a hollywood playbook. when i met those guys, they're 6-5 identical twin olympic rowers. really good looking, i remember meeting them at a hotel in new york for the first time, and it was cameron -- it might have been tyler. i don't know, you really can't tell. [laughter] and he was like, you look at us, and you think we must be the bad guys because if this were an '80s movie, we'd be dressed up
in skeleton costumes chasing the karate can kid around the gym. and when the movie came out, i got a call from -- >> host: the movie, of course, is "the social network." >> guest: ralph macchio called me and said he loved that line was back envogue. but they saw mark in the newspaper after this prank, and they tried to hire him as their geek. um, because they were working on their own web site which was called the harvard connection which was a dating site for harvard men. it was to help women meet harvard men. harvard guys spend a lot of time figuring out way toes to the meet guys, so they needed a computer programmer, and they hired mark. mark just wanted to hang out with them because they were like the cool kids on campus, but he didn't really think much of their idea, and that's essentially around the idea he became came up with facebook. and he went to his friend, eduardo, and said if you put up the money, i'll create the
company, you'll be cfo, and you can have 30% of the company. and that's where it began. it was just two college kids, and then mark wrote facebook, he created it from there. >> host: so, ben mezrich, from the time of that e-mail to the publication of your book, how much time passed and what kind of research did you do? >> guest: well, things got really crazy. what happened was i hung out with, you know, ed eduardo and all the people i needed. it was about a six month process of, you know, interviewing and things like that. and then i wrote a book proposal, and it was this 14-page book proposal -- >> host: is that short or long? >> guest: you know, in my career i've had so many different ones. at this point i think that's a little short. i think 20-page book proposals for me is what i try and do, but sometimes the story can be told very quickly, and i think this one with all the shakespearean tones of two friends ripped apart was a pretty simple thing. i remember telling kevin spacey and dana burnettty who are my production people at trigger
street about it, and i think it was dana who said, you know, facebook, does anyone really want to make a movie about facebook? that was my mom's first impression as well. but i wasn't, you know, writing the book yet. i had just written the proposal, and then the proposal leaked out on the internet. >> host: how did that happen, do you think? >> guest: well, it's a good question. it went out to a bunch of publishers, so i'm guessing somebody, either one of the publishers who didn't get it or somebody at a publishing house or a scout. i mean, i don't know. it was the first time i'd ever seen a book proposal in its entirety printed on the web. >> host: and was it accurate? >> guest: oh, it was the exact -- i mean, it was photocopy. it was the book proposal. and things went crazy because, first of all, eduardo wasn't supposed to be talking to me. so it was kind of this, you know, he freaked out. i got a restraining order from his lawyer saying then, you know, ben mezrich, you're no longer allowed to contact me. from what i understand, facebook quickly settled with him so he'd stop talking to me, and they give him what i've heard was 5%
of facebook which is an enormous amount of money, but he had to sign a contract which says he would never speak to ben mezrich again. you know, for 5% of facebook, i'd never speak to me again either. [laughter] at the same time, aaron sorkin and scott rudin saw what i was doing, and immediately aaron wanted to write this -- >> host: for a movie. >> guest: which is a great thing for an author. i hadn't rib the book yet, i was just working on it. so, yeah, things all happened in a day, and then i quickly, you know, worked on the book and finished it up. i had been talking to mark's people, to facebook, for a good six months. i spent a year trying to get mark to talk to me. i really wanted to get his point of view, i really wanted to sit down with him. he didn't want to. which was perfectly fair -- >> host: have you met mark zuckerberg? >> >> guest: no. i've met a number of people there. mark and i have never met. he didn't like me very much when the book came out, and i think
he called me or his company called me the jackie collins of silicon valley which is great, you know, jackie collins, she sells a lot of books. this is not the story that mark would ever have wanted to tell, you know? his story would not necessarily have con taind eduardo. he would not have talked about the winklevoss twins. and, you know, to his credit, mark is the one who created facebook. he's the genius behind it, and i can understand why he wouldn't want to talk to a journalist he couldn't control. i'm not that kind of a journalist where he could tell me how he wallets the book written. -- he wants the book written. and i was already talking to people who he didn't want to be a part of the story. so that was really the reason, i think, why he wouldn't talk to me. it would have been great if he would have talked to me. i would have loved to have gotten his point of view. however, i was able to build the story. there were thousands of majors of court -- pages of court documents, depositions, everything you could imagine.
there were dozens of people to talk to, and i managed to get just about everybody in the story except for mark. so it was something i could build, um, around not being able to talk to him. >> host: well, that was the second movie made out of your books. the first being "21." the book "bringing down the house." >> right. "bringing down the house." yeah, that was the big one for me. that was my first nonfiction book. >> host: and, again, where did you find the story? >> guest: it makes me sound like somebody who doesn't do anything, but i was hanging out at a bar really. i had been writing fiction, trashy -- they were medical thrillers, sci-fi kind of things, really pop fiction. i had written a book for the "x-files" television show, i had written a book that became a tv movie starring antonio sabato jr., underwear model, and i think robert wagner was the bad guy. it still airs on the sigh tiefy channel at, like, 2 in the
morning. it's a pretty funny movie. anyway, i had been writing that kind of thing. and i was hanging out with these guys from mit, and they were these geeky math science guys, mostly asian. they looked like everyone else at mit except they had tons of money, and it was always in $100 bills. and we hung out at this bar called crossroads which is kind of an mit dive bar. and you never see $100 bills in boston. so it's weird. i mean, in new york you see them n vegas they come out of the, you know, the atm machines. i don't know about d.c., but you just don't see them in boston. so i couldn't figure out why they had so much money, and i started hanging out with the main character. and in the book i called him kevin lewis because he wanted me to change his name because he didn't want to be known as the blackjack guy. and then the movie came out, $-- "21", and he did want to be known as the blackjack guy.
in his laundry was $250,000 in banded stacks of hundreds. you know, at fist -- >> host: this is totally random. >> guest: yeah, i knew him, i was friends with him, but i didn't know he had all this money. i thought he was a drug dealer at first, but he's this nice, geeky guy. and he said, you've got to come to vegas with me. so the next day i was at a time in my life where i could do that, and him and six of his buddies flew to vegas, and they pretended they didn't know each other -- >> host: were you in on this? >> guest: yeah, i went with them. the first time just to see it all in action. we got there, we're taken to this huge suite, you know, it's on the strip, you have all of vegas behind you, there's a swimming pool, there's a butler. we didn't even know what to do with the butler, but all the mit kids come and pull money out from underneath their clothes, and can it was a million dollars in cash. and they had flown secretly, you know, i didn't know everyone had it on them, from boston to vegas with a million in cash --
>> host: were you writing as a journal i -- >> guest: well, i mean, journalist is a strong word for me. i was a writer at the time. i had been writing pop fiction. when i saw this and they said, you know, we're the mit blackjack team, i immediately decided, okay, i want this to be my next book. and i told jeff, like, i want to write this. jeff wanted me to write it. some of the other people didn't want me to write it because they were doing this for a living. they had made about $6 million playing blackjack with these secrets of card counting. but i con vin vinceed them to, you know, let me coit. so i just traveled back and forth to vegas with them. i learned how to do it -- >> host: and i didn't mean to interrupt your story. a million dollars piled up on the table in the suite. then what? >> guest: they said we're the mit blackjack team, and they began to describe to me what they had done. and i had heard of something called the mit blackjack team, but i thought it was like a class at mit where you kind of learned to play blackjack or something, but this had been
going on for about 25 years. and each group of students after they were finished would train the next group of students. so this had been going on for, you know, two case at mit, since the early '70s. and i was blown away. and so that, you know, for me that was it, you know? i'd been writing all this, you know, pop fiction, and this was a true story that was better than the stuff i'd been coming up with on my own. >> host: well, ben mezrich, what was illegal about this? because -- >> guest: it's not illegal. there's nothing illegal about card counting, but casinos frown upon it. when you're playing blackjack, it's different than, say, roulette or any of the other games because blackjack has a memory. and what that means is that every card that comes out of the blackjack deck is no longer in the deck. so the odds change as you play. roulette is different. you know, you could spin red 25 times in a row, it doesn't change your chances of spinning red each though the casino wants you to think it does, and they
always print the numbers, you know, what came up on a roulette wheel. that's meaningless. but blackjack, if all the kings, tens and jacks came out of the deck, they're not in the deck anymore. so all that card counting is sitting there, watching the cards only out, and when more of the lower cards have come out of the deck, it means that more of the higher cards are still in the deck. and that means you're going to get blackjack more often, and the dealer's going to bust more often, so your odds are better. that's when you want to raise your bet. you see lots of low cards come out, and you raise your bets. the problem is the casino doesn't want you to do it because they don't like people using their brain in the casino. they want it to just be a game, you throw some money down, you lose, you lee. but card counters can win on the average up to 2% per hand which ends up being a lot of money. but they get caught because the casino can see them raising and lowering their bet. so what the mit team does is it
spreads ten college kids out across the casino, and one kid is sitting at each table, and he's the one keeping track of the cards, and when the card gets good, he signals in the big player, and the big player's acting like a high roller. we all know what a high roller looks like, and they try and look as much the part as they can. you have to be drunk if you're a high roller. they sit down, they bet $10,000 a hand, and when the deck gets bad, they get the signal, and they walk away. so the big money is only bet at good decks. and this way you can make an awful lot of money, and from the casino's point of view all they say see is a big player putting $10,000 here, $10,000 there. so for them it's very hard to see what's going on. and that's what the mit blackjack team did, and they made millions doing it. >> host: are they, um, banned from casinos at this point? >> guest: yes. and what happens is eventually the casino kind of figures out ha this guy keeps winning at different places, and they follow him.
what happened was a private eye followed one of the big players back to boston, found out he had gone to mit and then got ahold of all the year wooks, took -- yearbooks, took that photo out, the facial recognition software so that if you had gone to mit and were betting big, you would come up on a screen. and they will kick you out. they're not allowed to hurt you. you know, in the movie lawrence fish burn in '21" he's putting rings on his finger and beating someone up in the back room. that doesn't happen anymore in vegas. they just throw you out. it's considered private business, nevada is very pro-gaming. and they've, they're allowed to throw college kids out for being able to win. so the mit team eventually all became dinosaurs which means you're too recognizable in a casino, and they're allowed to play other games. you could play craps, poker, anything you want, just not blackjack. >> host: what are those kids, those young men --
>> guest: yes. i call them kids, but they're almost my age now. the main character, jeff, started an internet company and sold it to yahoo!, and then he wrote a book about blackjack and business. and he's done very well. he's running another business now with a couple other mit guys. one of the other kids went to write for tv and wrote for the show "chuck" on tv. he was their technical guy. someone else ended occupy on wall street. the girl is a lawyer, big time lawyer in boston. you know, these were all smart people, and they with respect, like, bad. they with respect doing anything -- they weren't doing anything illegal, they were using math to win. it was like right out of the classroom. they've done well. >> host: now, ben mezrich, the book "bringing down the house," there were a couple of articles including this one from new york magazine, is "bringing down the house" a fraud? and will charges of inaccuracy bring down "bringing down the house" from "the new york times"? >> guest: the short answer is, of course, no.
[laughter] i've been a controversial author ever since my first nonfiction book. there's a lot of jury roomists who simply don't like the way i write nonfiction. i write nonfiction as if it's a thriller. i'm, like, a method writer. i become a part of it as much as i can, and then i write it like it's a thriller, not like a documentary, not like something out of the encyclopedia. and what happens is the book comes out, and there are some old world journalists, journalists who kind of don't like to see the creativity that i put into my nonfiction. i feel very strongly that everything in these books are true. "bringing down the house," you know, was researched heavily lt all of the stories were researched heavily. i write dialogue, for instance. i've interviewed the people, i know what they spoke about, but i don't know their exact words. so i recreate this dialogue. they're talking about what they talked about, but i put it in
human words. um, and, of course, it's not tape recorded, it's not, you know, direct word for word, so it's easy to plant that conversation and say this suspect true. but it is true. it's just placed in words that weren't necessarily said at the time. but that's what they talked about. and, for instance, the facebook thing was a very big one. is it true, is it not true? it's very true, and i believe "the social network" is extremely accurate. there are stern things that aaron sorkin did that are dramatic that build the story in a certain way, but you really can't point to much in that movie or in the book that suspect true. and we have a lot of documentation. we have thousands of pages of documentation as to what went on. but it's, ever since the whole james frey thing -- >> host: ,frey, "million little pieces." >> guest: there's a lot of journalists looking for scandal. they're looking to make a big name for themselves by calling out an author. and so with my books i put it right in the author's note at
the very beginning of the book. i tell you exactly what i'm going to do in this book. so many of my reviews are actually reviews of my author's note. they review the author's note. janet maas lin from "the new york times" has a huge problem with me. she just doesn't like the way i write nonfiction which i've actually found kind of comical. i read her ru views with enjoyment because there's so much gusto in her hatred of me. my readers understand what they're getting into when they pick up my book. this is a true story, it's just written as a thriller. it's a thriller that happens to be true. and as long as i'm up front and very clear about how i'm doing it, um, you know, it's understandable there will always be this controversy, and that's fine. but, you know, listen, there are plenty of nonfiction books out there written with where a main character died 500 years ago. there's no interviews going on there. the author has to put himself into it a little bit. and, you know, you make your best guesses sometimes, but that
doesn't change the fact that it's not fiction. >> host: and welcome to booktv, this is our "in depth" program, our monthly author interview with one author and his or her body of work. this month, ben mezrich, author of six nonfiction books, here they are. begin anything 2002 with "bringing down the house." "the ugly americans" came out in '05. "busting vegas" also came out in '05. "rigged," 2007. "the accidental billionaires "came out in 2009, and his most recent is "sex on the moon." this is also your opportunity to talk with ben mezrich. 202 is the area code, 737-0001 for those of you in the east and central time zones. 202-737-0002 in the monor mountain and pacific time zones. email@example.com or send a tweeter -- twitter.com/booktv,
and we'll get to those in just a few minutes. i wanted to talk to you about the process of turning a book into a movie. have you been actively involved in the two books that have become movies for you? >> guest: i've been actively involved. i have no power. i do involve myself as much as they can handle it, as much as i can get there. it's been two very different movies. "21," you know, was a very fun, um, retelling of "bringing down the house." kevin spacey and dana burnetti were my first people in hollywood who became my brothers in hollywood, i call them, and they're the ones who brought it in to sony, and mike deluca was involved with "the social network. ". i've had grease experiments, but -- great experiences, but i don't think they've been normal. spacey and dana have allowed me to be a part of it. from the very beginning it was the kind of thing -- you know, i met them out of the blue.
i had written an article about the mit kids, the article was in "wired "mag magazine, and i got a random phone call. and it was a guy named dame that who said kevin spacey wanted to talk to me. and i didn't believe him. i called my mom and said kevin spacey's trying to call me. she said, no, it's the mit kids calling you. it really was dana, and he was kevin's assistant at the time. and i go out to hollywood, and spacey meets me and says we want to make a movie out of this. and i was, like, great, awesome. it got rejected by everybody in hollywood except mgm which were the casinos that we had been hitting, but that ended up becoming a sony picture. i do get involved, mainly the person who writes the screenplay will consult with me be or show it to me, and i'll make comments if there are things i need to change. once the movie's in action, it's really the director's movie. the direct director has the most
power, and i like to be on set, i like to hang out, but i'm really not there with any control at all. i mean, you don't -- the author is kind of, you know, i heard someone else say not at the bottom of the totem pole, they're under the pole. and that's really kind of true. [laughter] but you do get to make suggestions, you do see who they're going to cast, and do get to have fun with it. i was lucky both my movies filmed in boston where i live, so i did get to spend a lot of time on the sets. >> host: where'd you grow up? >> guest: i grew up in new jersey, princeton, new jersey. >> host: why? >> guest: my dad, well, he's a doctor now in baltimore, but he was a scientist, and he ended up working at rca, and my mom and he moved from brooklyn to new jersey to work at rca and then johnson & johnson, all in that corridor. so i grew up in princeton which was a great place to grow can up, and i've wanted to be a writer since i was about 12, i
guess. >> host: what was it that made you want to be a writer? >> guest: well, my parents were great. i had a love for television and really bad television. >> host: such as? >> >> guest: charles in charge and saved by the bell. [laughter] they set a rule that we had to read two weeks a -- two books a week before we were allowed to watch the. what's great is my dad accepted any kind of book. science fiction counted, fantasy counted, doesn't matter what it was as long as you were reading two books a week. so i read everything. i wrote my first book when i was 12. i sat down with a typewriter, and i wrote, i think it was, like, a 150-page science fiction novel which i then sent to publishers but, of course, got rejected. and i got lots of letters saying how old are you? [laughter] my family is very much oriented around books, and, you know, it's what's great is my dad is also into technology.
he was a scientist and inventor, an electrical engineer and then went and become a doctor. >> host: a medical doctor. >> guest: yeah, back to school in his 40s and got his md, and then was chairman of radiology at u maryland until recently, and now he's working on different, you know, stuff. and so he's a radiologist who kind of changed paths which is a great lesson when you're young because you can, you realize you can do anything. and be my mom as well went back to law school in her 40s. >> host: and she's a lawyer today? >> guest: no, she's not practicing now, but she's, you know, done a lot with it. it's just amazing to see people, um, you can just do what you want to do. i think that's the lesson you learn. there's no kind of dead end. if you decide you need to, you know, you're writing medical thrillers and all of a sudden you find a true story, well, then write a nonfiction book. there's no limitation. but also the love of books came from that, and i just read everything. i mean, i read everything. i was reading weeks, dozens of weeks a beak -- dozens of books a week by the end.
and it was a matter of finding my voice. i knew i wanted to be a writer, but i didn't know what kind until much later. >> host: you went to princeton? >> >> guest: i went to harvard. we grew up in princeton, my older brother went to penn. but i, you know, i loved growing up in the princeton. we were kind of the townnies, you know? trying to sneak into parties at princeton university, but i wanted to go to harvard and loved it. it was a great experience. >> host: were you there at the same time as zuckerberg? >> guest: no, he's much younger than me. i wish i was that smart too. that was one of the fun things about the facebook book, about "accidental billionaires," i'd always wanted to write about harvard. i'd been exploiting mit kids for so long, i had wanted to be a member of the finals clubs and wasn't the type of person who could be a member. i knew all about the weird social setting there which is also great. it's fun, but it's a little bizarre. there's still an aristocracy at harvard which you don't see
necessarily at the rest of america. there were people whose families were incredibly wealthy and live in a very different world. and yet it's a wonderful place because a guy like mark zuckerberg can go there and change the world without having that kind of background. so, yeah, i mean, i loved it. i had a great time there and writing about it was something i'd always wanted to do. >> host: ben mezrich is our guest. now it's your turn. if you have questions for him, we'll look at some of his other books as we go along in this three hours, but we're going to start with elaine in columbia, maryland. hi, elaine. apologize. elaine, please, start again. >> caller: hello. i wanted to ask ben about his relationship now with the winklevoss twins. >> host: did you read "the accidental billionaires," elaine, or did you see the movie, "the social network"? >> caller: you know, i haven't done either, but i had watched news accounts, and i had heard
that they were appealing their case, and i had wondered, also, about the status of the appeal because, apparently, there was new evidence. >> host: thankings. >> guest: yeah. it's a great question. the winkle voz twins, i call them the winklevi, that was aaron sorkin's term, but i love that. they don't want to ever give up. they feel very strongly that mark zuckerberg stole their idea. that is how they've felt since the minute i first talked to them, and they still feel that way dow. facebook originally accepted an agreement that it first was worth $65 million which i believe today it's considered to be worth about $200 million. it was a stock and settlement, i believe. but they feel that settlement wasn't fair and that facebook owed them a lot more. they want, i last read they wanted $650 million. you know, listen, from my point of view $65 million, $200 million, that's a lot of money. i don't sit in judgment on whether it was their idea, whether it was mark's idea.
i mean, facebook was mark's company. he built facebook. he created that company. the winklevoss' had a web site which had some interesting components, one of which was you had to have a harvard edu e-mail account to join, and when facebook launched, it also needed you to have this exclusive e-mail to join, and then it spread out from there school to school. and that was kind of the crux of their argument. there had been a lot of e-mails and things that have been published since then that mark supposedly wrote when he was that age that are really pretty damning, i guess. they were not in the initial case, and i think that's the reason for the attempt. i'm not a lawyer, and so i don't know really what's going on there. you know, the thing about the winklevoss twins is you want to hate them because you look at them, and they exemplify everything that we're brought up to kind of hate in america, these incredibly good looking, giant, athletic, ultimately the coolest guys getting all the
girls. and a geeky guy like me looks at them and goes, oh, man, these are the guys that used to put me in lockers when i was in high school. but at the same time, they're actually really likable guys. i spent time with them. they're very fun, they're nice, and they're smart. you know, even the jocks at harvard are making went sites in their dorm room. i kind of love that. and they just don't want to give up. and they really, really, really believe that they're in the right. and you've got to, you know, you have to take your hat off to someone who believes that firmly in what they believe, in the right of what they've done. i don't know what's correct, i feel like 65 million, 200 million, it seems like a lot of money. >> host: are you still in contact with the winklevi? >> guest: i'm a twitter guy, and so we tweet. and every now and then i see them in new york or boston. they're rowers. i think they're going to row in the london olympics. i believe they are. >> host: sixth place on the
american -- >> guest: yeah. they row together. it's amazing. they're like robots. identical twin robots. you can't beat that. of you know, i don't hang out with them every day, i don't want see them often, but every now and then we'll run into each other or something like that. um, i don't know where the current state of their appeal is. i know one appeal was dropped, one appeal was moved. the whole legal thing is mind boggling. it's so much going on, and there's so much money. i mean, the thing about facebook it's just, what is it, $100 billion company now? there's so much money. i'm more curious about eduardo. eduardo's probably worth $7 billion, and i have not spoken to him once since the restraining orders. i know nothing about him. he should send me a gift basket, maybe a billion dollars inside. he's a wonderful guy, very nice, just like in the movie -- >> host: is he living in the statesesome. >> guest: no. i last heard he was in thing in spore, i heard he was partying in the south of france and was
spending $50,000 a night with a suite full of models. i don't know if that's true. i know he does like to go out, and he's done very well, and he's a really great guy who's suddenly worth billions of dollars. what do you do? >> host: ben mezrich, all of your nonfiction books; sex, drugs, rock and roll, leggy models and lots of money. >> guest: yeah. well, i mean, first of all, does it need explanation really? i've always wanted to write books that are a vicarious thrill to me. i'm a geeky, neurotic, kind of terrified of everything guy, a very ocd. i like to describe my writing style or myself as a mix of hunter s. thompson andwoodly allen. -- woody allen. that's what i would be like because i want to be like hunter s. thompson, but i'm much more like woody allen. so when i go into these stories, it allows me to live that life that i don't really live. and so, you know, hanging out with sean parker from the facebook story who justin
timberlake played in the movie. i mean, this is one of the coolest guys out there. he's worth billions, he's a genius, he's running around like a rock star, and i get to follow him around for a month. how you beat that? or, you know, the "bringing down the house," i'm going to vegas every weekend. but in real life i'm terrified of everything. but when i'm there, i can kind of become a part of it. i went through the airport with a quarter million dollars. and it's an intense adrenaline rush, but at the same time i can just jump back out of it into my normal life in boston. so, yeah. there's a lot of sex, there's a lot of -- when i look for a story, it's got to have those elements. it's got to have sex, it's got to have money or something, high stakes. it's got to be a young person who's very senator. i don't really want to write about crime. i'm not that into crime because i don't want to have to hang out with criminals. i want to hang out with people i want to hang out with. i have written about a crime, but it was all about a genius who did something foolish.
>> host: very quickly, give us a taste. who is that'd roberts? >> guest: it's a book called "sex on the moon," and tlad, brilliant kid, had a tough background. grew up in a very fundamentalist, mormon family, was kicked out of his house at 18 for having premarital sex. went to university of utah and decided he wanted to be an astronaut. changed his whole life, studies everything he could study, he got into the co-op program at the johnson space program which is essentially on its way to becoming an astronaut, and then he fell in love with a 19-year-old girl. and to impress her, he broke into a lab and stole a 600-pound safe full of moon rockings. there was a piece -- >> host: this is a true story. >> guest: there was a piece from every moon landing in history. he spread them out on the bed and had sex with his girlfriend on the moon rocks and then tries to sell them over the internet. >> host: this was a girl he had known for about a month. >> guest: he had known her for about four weeks. she was an intern at nasa, he was a co-op, and you just have
to look at it and say, wow, that's so stupid, and yet it's kind of cool. yet he went to jail for a very long time, for almost a decade. he spent seven and a half years in jail -- >> host: this was the '90s -- >> guest: yeah. this happened -- >> host: 1999. >> guest: i forget all the details. but i got the call out of the blue from friends of his who were like you've got to hear this story. and i had never heard this story before. and i did an internet search, and there was only one article. nothing had been rib about it because nasa didn't want anyone to know about it. you know, it was this covered-up kind of crime, and he had spent almost a decade in jail and hadn't spoken to anybody. and he had just gotten out of jail, he was on probation, and i get this call. and i had never met anyone who'd been in jail at all let alone den years, seven and a half years. so i met him in a crowded hotel lobby, and he was the nicest guy. smart, good looking, a real jock but brilliant. getting his ph after prison and
had done something so stupid out of love, i guess, or whatever it was out of. and i was fascinated. so that was my book "sex on the moon." >> host: and just one other fact, he tried to sell those rocks on the internet. >> guest: for $100,000. a moon rock is the most precious item on earth. they're only gotten from the moon by hand by astronauts in the '60s and '70s. they can't be replaced, and there's only 800 something pounds in existence, and he tried to sell a whole bunch of it and got caught. >> host: next call comes from bob in melbourne, florida. hi, bob. >> caller: hi, folks, hi, ben. and thank you for c-span. hey, ben, i want to thank you all very much for your great nonfiction books. aye read every one of them -- i've read every one of them, including "sex on the moon" which i just it should a few weeks ago what a story. you come away from it thinking what the heck was this guy thad
thinking? my question quick is on busting vegas and how the world's casinos are following the hustlers you mention inside the book is the face recognition used in the casinos worldwide? and do they communicate with all the casinos worldwide, vegas communicate with monte carlo? that's my question and once again with, thanks for the great nonfiction books and thanks again, c-span. >> guest: i appreciate that. thank you so much. and i'm glad you read even "busting vegas," one of my books that are a little less known about an mit team that hit casinos all over the world. yes. first of all, most casinos use facial recognition software. how good that is is still up for debate. the casinos claim that it's incredible accurate. some to have measuring it kids that i worked with have said, no, i don't buy it's that accurate. the casinos, most big casinos employ it, most indian reservations, but also private eyes.
they all work with these -- most major casinos work with one or two major private eye firms that handle gaming. so there is communication between them. so, for instance, monte carlo and the london casinos certainly communicate with the casinos in vegas via these private eyes who are all chasing chasing the sam. mit kids, smart math geeks, and yet the consumers are spending millions of dollars to try to catch them and keep them from gambling. overseas it's a little bit more dangerous because a lot of those casinos are mob run. russian mob in monte carlo have their fingers all over london, so when kids go overseas to do this, it's actually very dangerous, and they can get, you know, in my book there's a lot of stories where they get dragged out at gun point from monte carlo n ruin -- in ruin aruba. but the casinos do communicate i via the private eyes, and you get known very quickly.
there was a book called the black book. the agency that had it would put every unwanted potential in the black book, and that would get shared by the casinos. right after 9/11 they added terrorists and osama bin laden, but the mit kids were still at the top. the very most feared people are a bunch of mit kids. >> host: what is thad roberts from "sex on the moon" going now? >> guest: you read that book and think, what was thad thinking? and i remember my dad read the book, and he hated him because he's like this is a guy who trampled on something that was incredible. it was a big moment in american history, and he trammels on -- tramples on science by trying to sell them. but when my dad met thad, he was like, you know what? he's a nice guy. he's a sweet guy who did
something stupid, and he knows he did something stupid. but at the same time, he did it like every college kid who pulls a prank. he didn't think ahead. it's amazing, it's like james bond. he even had the james bond song playing in his head when he pulled off the thing. he went back to utah to get his ph.d., he gist left there and is looking for work. i think he still wants to go to space. obviously, not via nasa, but there's a lot of private companies trying to do it now. he's a smart guy. i know he was launching a weather balloon for a while, and doing different things. i saw him, he aim to boston for my -- he came to boston for my book launch party, and he's still adjusting to being out of prison. that's a long time to be in federal prison. so, you know, he's got some time. >> host: this is booktv on c-span2's monthly "in depth" program. ben mezrich is our guest. john in kansas city, missouri. hi. >> caller: hi. yes, i wanted to ask about "busting vegas."
a friend of mine is a very good blackjack player, and he says that that scheme that they had -- i described it to him, i read the book, and he said that is totally impossible now. what do you have to say about that? >> guest: yeah, i mean, it's interesting. so the scheme in "busting vegas," the main scheme they were using is called cutting to aces. it's a cut cg technique. and the way it works is after the dealer deals the cards, they take the deck, and before they shuffle it, they roll the deck into a line like this. after they shuffle it, they roll it into a line like this, and they offer the cut card to all the players. now, if you're sitting over here, you can usually see the bottom card in that klein. if you see -- in that line. if you see an ace, which happens about once or twice an hour, that's significant -- >> host: how many decks are we playing with? >> guest: six decks. >> host: okay.
>> you get the cut card, and you put it into the deck. the dealer then takes the front of the deck and moves it to the back, right? so what you do when you cut is you cut to exactly 100 cards from the bottom of the deck. that sounds really hard, right? but if you sat home and practiced three hours a day for a month, you could do it almost every time. so you cut to exactly 100 cards from the bottom of the deck. the dealer now moves the front to the back, and the 101st card is that ace that you saw. >> host: but they always waste a card. >> guest: yeah. you take that into account. as the dealer deals out the card, you just count down to 100, and when the ace is lined up, you bet $10,000. you get the ace, and it increases your chances enormously, 15, 20%. now, the reason it's difficult to do nowadays and what your friend is talking about is most casinos now use a cover because of this, because the mit team was doing this, you'll see a plastic card at the bottom of the deck. but a lot of dealers are very
sloppy, and if you put at two in the morning, three in the morning, you're going to see that bottom card a few times. if you want to see if it works or not, go and try to see the bottom card. it's not like it used to be where the bottom card was not covered, so it was just covered by the dealer's hand, and you could see through his fingers. you right, it's definitely gotten more difficult. every time someone writes a book like this, certainly, the casinos read it, and they make adjustments. they're always adjusting things. but you'll also nose that the -- notice that the main adjustment they vice president made is making it all automatic shufflelers. if they used automatic shufflelers, it would be impossible to count cards but they don't do that because most players don't want to play at automatic surelers. so to get rid of the few thousands your losing, you would lose many millions by going to automatic card surelers.
"busting vegas," i don't believe what he did then would work as well now as a team because you'd get caught quicker. you know, it's a crazy system. you cut to an ace, you bet a lot of money. the casino would see that, so you have to have a persona developed, so they used to pretend to be these characters like a rock star, you know, walking in with their inte rack, or they'd come in like they were doing a didn'tal convention and pretend they were suicide aldentists, i'm just going to throw my money on the table. but you're right, it's probably much harolder to do today. >> host: next call comes from david in denver. good amp, david. there are. >> caller: hello. hi, ben. i've got a funny question for you, i think. first of all, i wanted to thank you for being so open about how you write nonfiction and make it into a fun story. i just published my first nonfiction narrative, and my publisher said it reads like a suspense novel.
how did you do that? and we probably shouldn't do that. [laughter] but we got through it, and i just can't tell you how good i feel having listened to you just now talk about and explain that. it's fantastic. >> guest: oh, yeah. >> caller: so i wanted to thank you for that. but the question comes around, i'm starting to get some movie and tv offers from l.a. and all that, and my agent says, oh, it's a great offer, however, we're turning them down because your book hasn't sold enough copies yet. so the question is kind of when do you say, all right, i've got enough copies, and when do i go into it and further on from that, too, how do i go about deciding, um, or will i have any control over what happens for the book after they take it? >> host: david, very quickly, what's the synopsis of your book? >> guest: it's called why planes crash, and it's my memoir, basically, as an accident investigator for airplanes. >> guest: as someone who flies nearly every day, i'm cared to read your book -- scared to read
your book. [laughter] that's a great question, and congratulations to you. it's awesome to hear that. the majority of my time i'm hearing writers who have been unable to sell, so it's wonderful to hear someone who got a book published. as everyone who wallets to be a writer knows, it's a tough, tough business, and it's just getting tougher. you know, the thing about the tv and the movies, it's a miracle that any movie gets made. that's what i have seen, and i've been very fortunate to have two made. it takes a spectacular amount of luck for everything to come together for something to actually get made. so when you get an offer, the most important thing, i believe, are the people who make you the offer. or the money. if it's about the money, then just go for the biggest money you can get, take it, and don't even think about it again. but if it's not about the money and you really, really want to see this project get made, it's about the people. and you need to sell it to people who are actually interested in the making it, who
have made movies or tv before and seem to have the right take on it. the thing about control as an author is you have to think of it this way. the book is yours, the movie is really theirs. you can have input, but if you're one of those authors who's saying this is how it has to be, it's probably not going to get made because they want to make it. they went into this business to make things, too, and so they wallet to have a lot of -- it's their movie, and they want to make the movie. this is a memoir you were saying, so it's different, because it's your life. it would be weird for someone to do whatever they want with it, so you have to have more say, but i think your goal would be consultant. i don't understand in terms of you vice president sold enough books. -- haven't sold enough books. you don't give them forever, you have a six month option or a one-year option or a two-year option, and if you can't make it in that time, you revert the right back to me. if you continue to sell books, it's just going to increase the amount, the chances your movie
gets made. maybe your agent's thinking you'll get more money if you sell more books, which is entirely possible. but if someone's excited about your project and wallet to make a movie out of them, i'd say let them. that's just my opinion, but i've been very lucky and fortunate with the people i've worked with. the book to movie business is crazy. i've sold the rights to all of my books, multiple times. "ugly americans" has been with two, three studios now. "rigged" -- >> host: do you get paid each time it's sold? >> guest: yeah. you get a percentage. you'll get some amount of money up front versus a very large payday on the first day of production if it actually gets made. and it varies depending on the book, depending how many people are interested in it. it's just like any kind of mark. if there's known bidding, you get whatever they offer you. you get the option money up front, and they get an amount of time. if that time ends and they haven't made a movie, they
either pay you again for another option period, or they give it back to you. when they give it back to you, you can resell it. so "ugly americans" and "rigged" are two of my books which have come back to me. very close with "ugly americans." just couldn't get it together. most movies don't get together, and now the rights will revert back to me, and i'll attempt to resell them. i've always wanted to make "ugly americans" as a movie. and "bigged "as well. >> host: but that is normal in hollywood? >> guest: yes -- well, the word normal, you know, the majority of books don't sell. the majority of books if they sell, sell 5,000 copies. the majority of books don't earn out, that kind of thing. i have been very fortunate in that i have sold all my books at least options, and two of them have been made which is an unbelievable, i mean, you just, you can't even -- >> host: and your most recent --
>> guest: we sold -- [inaudible] to the same producers of the social network. i sold to sony, and the guy who directed "easy a" and "friends with benefits" i believe he's writing it now and, hopefully, will direct it. he's a genius, so it would be amazing. yeah, i have high hopes. i think "sex on the moon" will get moving. >> host: speaking of ugly americans, who is john malcolm? >> guest: well, so the story behind the ugly americans, ugly americans is a true story that takes place in japan around 2000. it's about a guy who i call john malcolm who went there. he was a princeton student, he was an athlete -- >> host: is that part -- >> guest: that's true. he was a football player. he was actually my brother's roommate at princeton. and he was a very good football player who wasn't big enough to go pro. so he was physically not large enough to go pro. so when he graduated from princeton, he basically got a phone call from an alum who said
have you ever been to japan? i want you to come work for me because i like the way you play football. so he, basically, packed a duffel bag and left new jersey. he ends up working for nick gleason who some of you might remember was the 26-year-old trader who bankrupt the old e bank in england, baronsback, by bet -- barons bank by betting all the assets on the japanese stock market right before an earthquake. so he had bankrupt that bank and went on the run. i believe what he did was he wrote a letter saying, i'm sorry, and put it in his desk drawer and just took off and got caught on an airplane to thailand. the guy i wrote about was his assistant and had been putting all the trades through in osaka. so he became this cowboy. everyone wanted to hire him. even though his boss went to jail, he had been handling billion dollar trades, and everyone thought he had this magic touch. so he end up working for a hedge fund which had mysterious origins, became one of the
biggest traders in tokyo. it's funny because that book, "ugly americans," was one of my favorite books that i wrote. wall street read it, but nobody else read it. it became this ex-pat book, and i go to asia, and every trader has a copy of it on their desk, and i love that. but it's a crazy story. it takes place in the sex industry, the underground sex world in japan. because a lot of the business takes place in this underground world which is incredibly perverse. there are places called sexual harassment clubs which are clubs that look like, say, a subway car. and you go in there, and it even vibrates like a subway car, and you pay a fee, and there are women riding the subway, and you can go up and molest them. there are clubs called soap world, has anybody talked about soap world on c-span before? i don't think so. these clubs where there's a different floor with different women, and as you pay more, you go to higher floors, anyway, you get the idea.
so a lot of the book takes place in this world because this is where these bankers do business. these are american kids who grow up in a culture that we have which is a very western culture where the norms are very different. in if japan, sex is considered a bodily function. it's considered just something that happens when men go on business trips, their wives will pack condoms for them. that's the way it was when this kid was there, so he's thrown into this world. falls in the love with the daughter of a japanese gangster who he meets at one of these hostess clubs and has to leave japan very quickly. it's a crazy book. yeah. >> host: and is he still in bermuda? >> guest: well, see, that part was not true. i had to change where he's from. he's a great guy. he didn't want anybody to know who he was. then a lot of people started to figure out who he was. i got a lot of phone calls. everyone figured it out.
>> host: you used kidder peabody as -- >> guest: yeah. he had worked there. i was being pushed by people to put all the facts in, and every now and then, you know, you have to be very careful because if people don't want anyone to know who they are, it's very hard to tell a story like this and make it accurate yet at the same time protect people. i remember when i wrote this book, there was one chapter which takes place in hong kong where there was a hong kong businessman, and the main character called me and said you have to get rid of this chapter. and i was like, why, and he goes, because that guy's notorious for killing journalists. and i was like, all right, that chapter's gone. [laughter] just like that. i tried to disguise who he was, he's a wonderful guy, he's done very well. he's a billionaire by now. but he wasn't in bermuda. he's out there and still trading. >> host: ben mezrich is our guest on "in depth." charlie in huntersville, north carolina, you're on booktv. >> caller: hi. i'm enjoying the interview very
much, thank you. and thank you for c-span. i just had a quick question in "the social network" where the winklevoss twins go to an interview with larry summers. >> guest: right. >> caller: and larry summers in the film comes off as totally dismiss i have and air -- dismissive and arrogant, and i was wondering how accurate the dialogue was because this is a person who's advising on the national economy with people who are really hurting, you know? so how accurate was that interview? >> guest: it's a great question. so it was a great scene which is directly from the book where the vic -- winklevi twins, they find out zuckerberg's launching facebook, which they think is their idea. they want larry summers to kick him out of school. they go in, and larry summers is incredibly dismissive, treats them like crap, and i actually read an interview with larryer
isers that came out recently where he said that scene was incredibly accurate. he said, everything in that scene pretty much happened except he didn't ask someone to punch him in the face. he said, if you want to understand the winklevoss twins, these are guys who wore a suit every day in college. and he was incredibly dismissive. that's who he is. he's brilliant, but he's arrogant and dismissive, and he thought, this is not my problem. deal with it yourselves. and that's, essentially, what he told them. he did throw them out of the office. that scene is, you know, as word for word as i could do it many years later without a tape recorder. but that scene was very accurate and, you know, sorkin captured it perfectly. that guy really looked like larry summers. i felt that worked very well. >> host: care lin ventura ya, california. good morning. >> caller: good morning, how are can you? >> host: good. >> caller: i just have a quick question. i was wondering if he was
interested in a true story that's extremely intriguing that involves a great amount of wealth, things that go on that people are not aware of, and i'm looking for the right writer. and i know that this film or book or whatever would be a complete hit and a smash -- >> guest: right. [laughter] >> caller: out of the story i would like to offer the wealth for humanitarian projects and to help people all over the world. and i'm looking for the right representative -- >> host: all right, carolyn. we got the idea. are you going to tell us what the story is? >> guest: well, it's a little danger and intrigue involved. it's about an individual who controlled the largest oil resource in the world and what happened to that individual because they don't have an army to protect them. >> host: is it a true story? >> guest: it's a true story. >> host: all right. >> guest: it's right now in the international criminal court, the netherlands. >> host: all right. so, ben mezrich, you say you get
these random e-mails -- >> guest: i get a lot of these actually. so they go to benmezrich.com is my e-mail or you can go on twitter and ben mezrich on twitter and then tweet me, you know, your info or whatever. you know, that's the kind of story which on the surface does sound very intriguing to me. for me to go forward with it she would have to have a personal in for me because i'm not one of those journalists who's going to show up and knock on doors. i have to have the story, and it would have to have the elements that i'm looking for. when it's already in the papers, that means there's a lot of journalists running around it. and i'm also not a gun for hire. so for me, i have to want to go in and run it as my book. but it's intriguing. i would love to see an e-mail from her. ben at ben mezrich.com because if it's something you have, you know, the handle on and i can get in and talk to everybody and they want to tell their story, oil i did write a book about oil, but it was, you know, more
in the new york merc exchange and dubai. it's intriguing. but, you know, also, i stop and start stories all the time, so i'll get dozens of these, i'll look into them, and i'll be like, you know what? it's not really right for me, or it's going to take too much time or be dangerous. i also don't like to put myself into real danger, so i would not write a story where i had to get involved with mob people or go -- i've gotten those e-mails, too, i mean, really crazy e-mails from people who have done horrible things. everybody e-mails me. it's like when elliot spitzer went down, the madam was e-mailing me, right? ..
>> guest: i don't know how public it was. it was a federal trial. i assume it would have had to have been. there were reporters there. it was written about so little. it never exploded. there was a wonderful l.a. times article about it at the time, a four-page article, and that was it. that was years ago. >> host: did nasa cooperate with you at all? >> guest: no, no. they were not thrilled about it. they told everyone not to speak to me, making everyone want to speak to me. there was the belgium mineral collector, collects rocks, his wife's name is crystal. it's perfect. he meets every week in an
abandon wreck hall basically, and they trade rocks. he gets an e-mail out of the blue, do you want to buy a moon rock from the u.s.. he got excited, but then thought it was fishy. he decide something is going on and e-mails the fbi in the united states saying you might be interested in this. the fbi creates a case using axel as the main source, and he was my source, reached out to me, a wonderful guy, and nasa people were feeding him things they wanted me to know. i decidedded i wanted to go to nasa. they said no one could talk to me. i went on the website, nasa.com, whatever it is. i signed up for a high security tour. they let ten people go doo it today. it's a government bureaucracy, so i show up at nasa, i get a security badge, and i'm inside
nasa. then thad robert texts me, the main character saying, okay, there's a door at the back of the cafeteria, go through the door. i was guided by the guy who robbed nasa. i was able to get all the court documents. i have a little group who helped me. i have a lawyer's who is like the guys who can do anything lawyers, and he's got private eyes who can go to tampa and get me the records. >> host: they should be public anyway? >> guest: i got the fbi files. they took a year for them to send them to me. i was amazed they sent them at all. it was thousands of pages, and literally, so i knew everything that was said was true. i knew i could back everything up. i had what was in his pockets when he was arrested. you see how hard the fbi works when you get those files. they had research an moon rocks for 200 pages to know what a moon rock is, so i did -- you
get all the information that way, but, yeah, yeah. >> host: this is booktv's in-depth program. 202 is the area code if you want to talk with ben mezrich. you can also send us an e-mail booktv.cspan.com is the e-mail. >> caller: when you're an author and screen writer, what's the difference aside from the obvious, having a consolidating it down into a two hour movie format, and is it frustrating -- it seems when you watch a movie after reading a book, like 99% of the time, you can see there was something left out. i just went to the movie and read the book, not yours by the way, but i was amazed that i
think important things get left out of a screen play that were in the book. i understand you can't fit it all in, but can yak talk about it a little bit? >> guest: sure. i'm not a successful screen writer yet. i've done one or two plays. one adaptation of ugly americans 245 didn't get made, and when i sell my books, they bring in somebody else to do it. screen play is different than books. all the interior, dialogue, and all the motivations and all of that is left outside, and they have to write it very action-driven usually, and, yeah, often movies are not as good as the books. i've been lucky. social network was a phenomenal movie. you know, they have to pick and choose. you can't put everything from the boot into the screen, and it's also not always relevant, but, yeah, i've seen movies before where, oh, they left
something out, and then there's movies where they put too much in. it's all this strength of the screen writer, and as someone who adapts their own work, i think the hard thing is cutting things. most writers make the mistake of putting too much in. you want it phases and exciting and not -- fast and exciting and not just talking, and in books, you can get away with that, but my books are written like screen plays. i get adaked for that. -- attacked for that. i visualize every scene, i imagine justin timberlake doing it all, and that's how i sit down and write. i write a movie in book forms. they are different. yeah, people who write screen plays don't usually write books. >> host: a tweet saying, mr. mezrich, what's the upcoming projects and story lines >>. >> guest: good question.
that's from an incredible fashion designer in boston. he wantings me to tell secrets. i am working on a big new project, but i'm not yet at liberty to say what it's about. it might be a female main character, which would be new for me. i never wrote a female main character before. if i way this book next, that will be it, but i'm not sure i'm going to. i have not decided yet what the next book is, but i have projects, and working on a couple television shows. i have a scripted show that i'm working on and then i have a show, a reality show going inside stories every week that i've been working on sort of like, you know, how there's big guys on tv, i'm the opposite of that. all the man verse wild, i'm the guy who doesn't succeed. i go in the stories, tell the story, and all the stuff people pitch to me essentially, and i
become a part of it, and you see the story, but then i get out. that's another show, by i don't know yet specifically what the next book is. i have an idea of what it might be, but i have not fully decided yet. >> host: mud stick tweets read ugly americans. are you familiar with carson block, muddy waters, and the china media express fraud? >> guest: no. that sounds intriguing though. i am not. i have actually been pitched a bunch of china stories. they are tricky because there's so much corruption. it's dangerous spending any amount of time people making fortunes in china now doing crazy things, but it's a little bit dangerous for me to do one of those stories. i don't know specifically what story he's talking about, but, you know, there's been good ones there. >> host: robert e-mails in, are you familiar with richard hogland's work in relationship to our moon? >> guest: richard hogland,
it's familiar to me, but i don't know. if you gave me more, i might know what you're talking about. >> host: that's all we got. >> caller: [inaudible] it seems when the book is out, the movie is out. >> guest: people want to know, you know, a lot of people come to me to tell me their stories they want money. i think i have two types of people telling me stories, people who want money or people with so much money they don't want the money, they just want their story told, which is often more fun, but it depends on the situation. i'm not really trying to write biographies of people. i really want to write my books that are about true stories that happenedded, so it's a little bit different want i have in the
past main character for bringing down the house, the first non-fiction book, i gave him 10% of everything, and then the movie was separate. they can be consultants on the film, but it depends on the movie situation. you know, some of the books, they don't get anything, and obviously, the facebook, book, you know, they are all way richer than i'll ever be for the rest ofmy life, and it's just different for every situation. i -- my goal is to write the story and not have -- the problem when you're paying the characters is that you can become beholding to them. it's a weird partnership when you write a story about someone. some of the things they'll dislike. when you tell a true story, you need all the elements. you want independence, you want to write the story as it happened and not necessarily as they want you to write the story. it's not a pay-for-hire situation where someone says
write my story, and, no, that's not how it happened. it's more like this is a great story, and then i want to write it, and then we have to work something out. if someone is paid, it's because they enable the research, consulting on the facts, and they consult on the film, and if they help out with the film, yeah, hollywood wants to buy life rights when it makes the story, because they want the story to be accurate. i believe that hollywood studios much prefer someone who, you know, gives themselves the life rights and get involved to the point where it's accurate, but not trying to control everything on the set. the goal, of course, is a partnership in which i can write the book however the book has to be. if a movie is made, they can be in some way to consult on the film, but it's a good question. it's different on every project. usually a main qark if the -- character if the book is a success, it has nothing to do
with the payment. they can become famous, first of all, and use that any way they want. the people from the facebook book, i believe, profited well from it. i believe they all did well. i think the social network and accidental billionaires was good for them nor would they be worth what they are without the social network. it's a big part of making their image cool. he's cooler in the movie than before the movie, and everyone knows him, and they know him in a way they would never have known him, and that's a big positive. >> host: how could you use the picture of mark on the front of your book? >> guest: ask the publisher that. >> host: public domain? >> guest: it's a photo of a public figure. you know, there's a lot of obama books with obama on the cover. i'm not a lawyer, but as long as -- it's true, you can't --
you're not liabling anybody. as for photos, if it's a public figure -- honestly, no idea how it works. no clue on the law of it, but there's people who do. >> host: will you ever get the chance to chat with him? >> guest: yes, i think we were. came up to me and said, you know, they did not like the book when it came out, they disagree with it, says it is not true, but everyone's cool with me, and it would be cool to talk. everybody's cool with me now. i have enemy for a year, and there's probably a dart board of me, but it worked out. they'll be worth trillions of dollars. she's done amazing stuff there. i think she's an up credible person. i have no ill-will towards them, and i don't think they have any towards me. >> host: ben, in the digital age, do you feel managing your online presence, twitter, ect., often crowds out serious writing
time? >> guest: well, first of all, i'm not a serious writer, but, you know, that's a really good question. all of this online stuff, i mean, it's probably just a fad. no, i'm kidding. it's probably going to be the future; right? we can't do anything about it. as much as i hate the idea of the kindle, i love the kindle. it's tricky as an author, and i know that's not exactly what you're talking about, but i do have a twitter and facebook. my web presence has been important in my career, and you're right, you can spend a lot of time playing around with that stuff, and what's is it all really doing? is it really doing anything? the content is what matters. the people who write books, i think what you write in the book is the most important step, and then getting on twitter and facebook and all of that stuff is less important, but a lot of companies are diving into it saying this is the most important thing from a publicity stand point, all that manetters is that -- matters that you tweet.
really? i don't know. i like to tweet and maybe it works and maybe it doesn't, you know. i mean, you guys, c-span's all over twitter; right? is it good or bad? i don't know. nobody knows. does advertising work on the internet? nobody knows. they pretend it does. facebook make money; right? but have you clicked on an ad there? no. has anybody? i guess somebody is because they're making lots of money. i don't get it. i try to ignore the ads when they appear. ads are everywhere, and you try to ignore them, and yet people make money. the internet's crazy. admit it up front. that a company's worth $100 billion that doesn't make anything, but it's cool. and then there's groupon, really? how many billions of dollars is that worth? look at twitter. it's fun. i don't understand how they make money. i mean, do they?
i agree with the question. all of the stuff online is crazy, but at the same time, i think that the future is going that way, not away from it, and people who say, you know, i'm not going to do twitter, not going to do facebook, you are sticking your head in the sand because that's the future. >> host: richard in connecticut, thank you for holding, on with author ben mezrich. >> caller: thank you very much. most fascinating interview. i enjoyed it. ever since the first mathematical studies came out pointing out the probabilities involving blackjack, i have been in a minor way, a card counter, and i read your book and seen the movie, and the one issue i never understood, and i'm interested in it as you, given that the casinos that are -- highly regulated industry, why does the state of nevada allow the casinos to throw out people
who are breaking no law and doing nothing wrong other than possibly causing the casinos to make less money. thank you very much. >> guest: great question, and good for you out there fighting the good fight. the casinos own nevada. that's the simple answer to the question. i mean, not necessarily in a bad way. i love casinos when i go to vegas, those big massive strip hotels and suites, but nevada knows where it makes it money, and it's not from mit kids, but billion dollar casinos. atlantic city is different. they are not allowed it kick card counters out. they have to deal to you, and what they do is shuffle every hand if they know you're a card counter. in new jersey, not owned by the casinos, and they lost the battle and cannot kick you out, but in vegas, they are allowed to kick you out for card counting. nevada is a wu7b industry town -- one industry town in a lot of ways. they are tied to the casinos.
yeah, and you know what? i get it. if i owned a casino, i wouldn't want card counters had there either. the way the casinos say it is when you go to a movie, you pay for the entertain m. the price of the ticket is your payment. when you go to the casino, there's an expected loss. i don't know the average today, but when i did the book, it's $400 a weekend. every person walking into the casino is expected to lose $400. that's the price of admission. if you are a card counter, you're not paying the price of the ticket, you snuck into the theater and didn't pay. that's an ugly thought. they say everyone getting off the plane is a loser. they don't publish that thought and say you're losing $400, but that's the expected return for everyone coming into the casino. that's the reasoning behind it. nevada supporting them in that, and, you know, it's different in
different places. >> host: now, you're a gambler? >> guest: i love to play poker. i used to play blackjack, but after being with the mit team, if i bet big, i was kicked out, but i know what it takes to win, and so playing blackjack is not fun for me because i know, you know, if i want to play it, i should relearn how to card count, practice, and then play, otherwise it's just luck, and then i'd rather play poker, but i have that gambling gene or whatever it is. if i'm in a casino, i want to play something. i shifted to poker because it's more social and fun, and we have a group in boston, 30 guys who play a weekly game, and some are mit guys, some played in the world series. they are great players. my wife wins almost every other week. i like to gamble, yeah. i have that. i have that, whatever that is. >> host: you played on tv as well, vice president you? >> guest: i hosted the world
series of blackjack. i have not played, but i co-hosted the show, aired a few seasons for game show network. i know if it's on anymore, but i did a season at the hitton for two weeks. i don't know, but it was a long two weeks where you basically -- you don't want to be in vegas more than two nights, but i spent a lot of time there, and it was fun and exciting, and i like doing tv. i enjoy television. i think, you know, it's fun. i mean, you got the best gig there is, i think, but it was just one of the fun things i did, yeah. >> host: holly, florida, you're on. >> caller: hi, thank you. mr. mezrich, i understand you write controversial stories, and i wonder what your take would be on having a story submitted to you about fighting the good fight, a story about living against the odds, and if that's not something you're interested
on taking on, who would you know in hollywood who would have a story like that pitched to them? >> guest: there's no detail. i don't know the details yet, i mean, i'm always interested in seeing stories. for me, it would have to have the elements that i'm looking for, so if there's not betrayal, sex, money -- it's probably not for me. there are great stories out there about fighting the good fight that don't have those almosts that can still get made, but they wouldn't necessarily be something i write. i go to dinners all the time and people say i have a great story, and then i have to say, have you read my books? it's a great story, but it's not for me. that happens to me a lot. here's the thing, if you have a great story, you can find a way to tell it, you know, e-mailing someone like me. hollywood is tricky because they just don't -- there's no open door. there's no way to submit
something to hollywood. in publishing, it's semisimilar unless you have a finished machine ewe script and submit it to agents and find a way. if you have a great idea, now, i think the best bet with it is to use the internet and find people who have done similar things and declare them, you know, one-page e-mails, that kind of thing. i would see more of something like that. the odds it's for me, you know what i'm looking for, so i'm not trying to save the world. i'm not trying to sort of just tell a story because it's a story. it's got to have the elements i'm looking for. >> host: if someonements to read articles you wrote. where can you find those? >> guest: it's hard. i'm a long form guy. i wrote an article for my poker group for boston common, a magazine in boston. i used to write for stuff, the men's magazine before it disappeared.
who else? i don't write that many articles. i've done stuff before for different magazines when i get asked to do it, and i'm always bitter and misrabble that i -- miserable that i accepted, but i just don't like to work. i don't like to write an article because it takes so much of your time, and then in the end, you don't have a book. people read it, and then it goes away, and there's something about the book that i'm willing to suffer through. i find writing very awful and miserable, torture. >> host: where do you where? > guest: i have an office. downstairs is the office, and the office was my apartment until i met my wife, then we had a kid and had to get another apartment, and then i've wrote all my books in the same apartment since 1996. i represented so long i should own a building. i always rented. i was smart, then dumb, and
smart, and then dumb. my intelligence goes with the economy. >> host: who is asher? >> guest: he's my son, 19 months old -- did he e-mail me? no, he's awesome. i dedicated my new book to him, and he's, you know, hopefully by the time he's old enough to write, it will be downloaded into your brain, but we'll see what he does, but it's great. i mean, it's life changing, you know, having a kid, it's like -- you're not -- you're -- there's meaning in everything. >> host: roger, ohio, you're on booktv with author ben mezrich. >> caller: anyway, i hadn't herd of mr. mezrich, so i looked him up on the internet, so that gives me questions. >> guest: that's scarry. i don't know what you find on the internet.
>> caller: there's one obvious one, it was either rigged or of the ugly american, maybe both was about a guy who used the stock markets to -- rigged the market to make a lot of money, and according to occupy wall street, that's what's going on now. it's the great recession that's all a result of the goldman sachs conspiracy. how much of that is true and is in your book? >> guest: i get so many pitches about evil conspiracy, wall street conspiracies. i mean, i get ten of those a week. i wish i found a really good one, but i have not found a true one yet. i write about people who gamed the system or figured out a way to make money from a corrupt
system. that's what ugly americans is, rigged is like that, but bringing down the house in a lot of ways, there's a system in place, but there's a way to make money off of it. you know, i'm not a big political guy, and i'm not that knowledgeable in the world of occupy wall street. you know, a lot of stuff happened, no question that a lot of shadiness went on, and i have been pitched some stories. i wish i found a solid one. i know michael louis goes there and owns that beat a little bit, and he's financially great at -- phenomenally great at it. >> host: did you hear from any bernie madoff people? >> guest: if i did, it's people who got screwed by him, not by him. i heard from people who lost money to madoff. if he called me, i would have wrote his book as hateful as he is and what he did, i would love to get inside his head, but
there were two books that just came out; right? they seem interesting. i have not read them yet. yeah, it's tricky with a story like that. you don't want to go into the depths too much. i'm an upbeat writer. i like the college kid, finds a schemes, makes the millions, and everybody loves it. i don't like the guy who screws everybody and makes a million dollars. there's plenty of people doing that. >> host: you said you're the go-to guy for college kids. is it because of bringing down the house? >> guest: that and 21. 21 was the movie everyone saw been before going to vegas still ten years later. it's great. social network, and then all the internet people came to me like you have to write this or that story, and i mean, i wish i had got to steve jobs storiment i mean, i think that's an amazing book and story. yeah, i am that guy now.
>> host: reading ugly americans and rigged, these are a lot of people who make a lot of money building nothing, adding value to nothing, is that a fair statement? >> guest: yeah, i guess i would put it like that, although, i don't see that necessarily as a negative in every respect. i mean, you could say the same thing about anything, really. i mean, facebook? it built something great, but at the same time, it's kind of nothing too. if it didn't exist -- it didn't exist before, and we were all fine. it's not building a building. it's not making food. it's creating entertainment or whatever you want to call it. yeah, so an ugly american, it's a guy figuring out there's a mistake going on, the target is changing, and if you know ahead of time what's about to happen, you can make a fortune off of it. he's just creating his own personal wealth or company's wealth, and that's what wall street is essentially. a lot of is it gambling, and
that's what gambling is; right? there's nothing wrong with gambling. it's an american institution. it's finish d you think about it, it's what the write is built on. erveg we do is a gamble. there's nothing wrong with gambling. that's my opinion. if you're sick and you have a gambling problem, that's a problem, but the idea of making money because you're smart is not a bad thing; right? it's a good thing if you can make wealth because you're smart. if you're smart enough to realize that, you know, nobody realizes that this company is bad over here, so i'm going to realize it first. that's not a bad thing; right? what's bad is when you take advantage of someone else to make money or when you screw somebody else to take their money. that's bad, but making money off of a system that's ineffective or has problems, i don't see that as inherently bad. >> host: call from scott in georgia. you're on the air. >> caller: yes, earlier, you mentioned you viewed yourself as
a cross between hunter s. thompson and woody allen. i assume with the nature of woody allen, what films of woody allen influenced you. i assume you view yourself that through his films. you mentioned the christian nature of the united states, and i was just curious if you don't mind, a personal question, your background as far as religion or spiritualty. >> guest: good questions, yeah. i'm jewish. my background is jewish, not -- i'm not religious per se. i'm sort of -- yeah, i guess i call myself -- spiritual, i don't know if i call myself spiritual. i like the idea of it, but i don't think deeply about it. i don't know, people do that later in life really, i don't know. >> host: how old are you? >> guest: i'm 42, so maybe i am later in life.
i don't know. i'm happy, does that matter? i'm a happy person. you know, i grew up jewish. woody allen movies, i obviously love them all. the whole idea of like the geeky little guy who is facing a world of big guys, that just -- i don't know that speaks to me. i was very small, 90 pounds as a high school senior, 112 pounds as a college senior. there's never in my life has anyone thrown a ball to me that i either caught or hit. i'm not an athletic person. i've been frightened of guys over six feet tall, and, you know, that's -- manhattan, annie hall, bananas, and those movies were great. my parents are from brooklyn,
i'm from jersey, boston is my home, and being in boston allowed me to hate the new york sport time. it's a pride of boston to heat the sports teams. i don't know what it is about that. want to be hunter at something, but i'm more woody allen. that's how i describe myself. >> host: this is booktv's in-depth program with one author and his or her body of work. ben mezrich is our guest today, and our live program will continue in just a moment.
talk about the technique you e-mails -- employ as a writer. how you employ that, and why, i have to say in the "new york times" review that just came out yesterday. >> she hated me. >> she hates you. >> okay. >> he said it; right? that's part of it. that's the hangover of that. tell me why -- >> it's been like this my entire careerment i'm a thinker, and this is the stuff i like to read. it's a form of new journalism, i guess, but i get all the information, interview about everybody, get thousands of pages of court documents, the fbi stuffer, and then i sit down and tell the story in a visual way. there's journalists who do not like it. she's one of them, but, you know, i don't necessarily write
for janet, but i write for me and the people who like this kind of book, and the reality is it's a true story as any other thing on the non-fiction list. there's a biography of cleopatra. come on, nobody knows anything about her. you see biography of lincoln and obama's biography has invented characters. i mean, it's a process. you know, you have to take the facts and then write it in a certain way. i choose to write it in a very sinmatic way. for instance, i interview thad roberts, the other kid who is there, gordon. i know there's a conversation that took place ten years ago between these people, i know what was said, but not the exact words. one journalist say they talked about moon rocks, but that's boring. i know they talked about it, i know what they did with the
rocks, so i describe what they did. there's some who love it and others who don't, and, you know, it'll be a controversy forever in terms of certain people never liking it. with social network and accidental billionaires, mark said it's not true, it's not true, and called me the jackie collins of silicon valley, which i loved actually, that's great, but, you know, he never pointed out anything that was not true. he never said this is not true or this is not true. he said the whole thing was not true, and he said he didn't read the book. i don't know where go with that. [laughter] the reality is it's a very true story. he laid, you know, he meant to have sex on moon rocks because he wanted it to be like having sex on the moon. he spread them on the bed and had sex on the moon. janet had a problem with the scene saying he just put them under the mattress. that's not true. he did it on purpose. i tell it in my style, and, you
know, some people like it and others don't. >> right. >> host: ben mezrich, mentioned as one of your favorite authors earnest hemmingway, the sun also rises, why? >> guest: i would reread that for a month the first five years i was a writer. i tried to do a drinking tour of paris and drink everywhere they drink. i don't recommend that to anybody because you might die, but, you know, i think that book is perfect as a book, and it's sparse, and yet in a single instance, he tells you everything you need to know about a character. i don't know. i love that book. >> host: we ask every author on this program, we ask them what their favorite writers are, what they are reading, and ben mentions both his father, mother, and, of course, my wife,
is what he e-mailed back to us. we left it just like that. then there's jim morrisson. >> guest: yeah. i read that biography -- oh, i just lost the name. what's the name? i can't remember what it was, but it was -- something about the doors and the way he started, and i guess it's spiritual in a weird way. it fascinated me, and then the train wreck that became his life. you know, the doors movie, the oliver stone movie was just incredible. i don't know, fascinated by that music. i used to play one of the songs crystal ship over and over again as a struggling writer. i, yeah, i write in the dark with music on, so i write in a very sort of psychedelic setting often depending on the scene i'm writing. in crazy scenes, there's doors and music blasting. i go through different phases,
but a very big doors phase. >> host: who is george rr martin. >> guest: oh, game of throwns. that's amazing. i don't know if you saw the hbo series, but the books, i'm on book four now. i think there's five books, and he's going to have seven. it's like sopranos taking place in lord of the rings is how i describe it. i read somewhere it was called garbage. i couldn't believe that. he's missing something. the game of throwns is the best series i've read in a long time. i love lord of the rings and that kind of thing. i'm geeky, but if you have not seen the series, you should. it's great. >> host: if you want to talk with our author, 202-737-001, and 0002 if you live in the mountain and pacific time zones. putting up the e-mail and
twitter address as well. ben mezrich is the author of six non-fiction books "bringing down the house house" came out if 2002. ugly americans in 2005. busting vegas in 2005. rigged came out in 2007. the accidental billionaires, which you may know as the movie, "the social network" came out in 2009, and the most recent, "sex on the moon." what is the merck? >> guest: there's one in chicago as well, but i wrote about the merck exchange in new york, rigged, commodities are traded, oil was traded, used to be a physical exchange where you stand in the pit, the tickets flying and you sell orange juice or whatever, but oil is the main one, and it's a physical place that where you stand matters because who you are trading with it's about real estate in the trading exchange. there was one guy who was a
trader, but he was very small, so he hired clerks who were to just hold him in the put so he was not pushed out. rigged was about a guy who went to harvard business school, but grew up in brooklyn. >> host: a real life guy? >> guest: a real life guy. the merck is tough guys, jews and italians from new york who get a spot on the floor, and oil was traded insanely, like guys without a lot of education, it's gambling. it's about a market, and this guy with a foot in two worlds in the school world and brooklyn world goes to work there and sets up an exchange in dubai that mimics the merck. he sets it up in dubai, and it's a story about a guy. i think i call him john, in the book i call him two names, but it's a fascinating story. some changed.
the electronic trading tookover, 10 the physical exchange is not what it used to be when the book took place, but it's still crazy. >> host: what have you learnedded about economics through your writing? >> guest: it's gambling. the casinos and wall street are the same. no difference of being a card counter and doing well on wall street. that's what i believe. it's not a bad thing necessarily because just it's gambling. there's good gambling and bad gad bling, good guys and bad guys making money on wall street and from oil, and there's people making money because they are something wrong with the system, and there's people making money by making the system wrong, and those are two very different things. there's a hedge fund trader who is doing white collar crime, sneaking out information, and it's screwing everyone, but there's another trader pointing out that a company is lying, and they are a bad company and bets against it.
those are two very different things, right? the guy bringing down the bad company is a good guy even though he profits from it, and the guy who makes the company bad is the bad guy. that's what i think is left out of the whole conversation because, you know, you read a lot of articles about the bad guys, but not enough about the good guys. there are good guys on wall street, and there's good guys in oil, and, you know, yeah. that's the point. >> host: russ tweets in to you, how much time does one of your books take to conceive? >> guest: you know, it can be a quick process. it depends on the project. the first thing i do is research it, and when i say i research it, i'm a method writer, i dive inside the story, become a part of the mit blackjack team as much as they let me. i want to go to is a and pretend to be the guy robs nasa. i spend three months researching, intensely, and then
i write it in three months. it's a very fast process. i finish the drash, you know, it's a marathon, i go through it, write day, night, fall apart physically, look like a mess, eat the same meal every meal. i had a turkey sandwich three meals a day for four months. my life is consumed with the book, and then i hand in the book, and it's -- and then the editing, and everything, but six month process i say from start to finish. and then, you know, there's faster ones too with accidental billionaires, the proposal leaks out, one writes the screen play, so i have to write a book. i wrote it quick, and then i handed them the chapters, and they went through it and wrote the screen play. i had not handed him the book yet. it was a crazy experience. he wrote it in about five weeks i'd say. i don't know for sure, but it's
one of the best written, and he got the oscar for it, well deserved, but the book was written and then the screen play like one after the other. that's the luckiest thing to happen in hollywood. i don't know if there's a book to movie faster than the social network. >> host: which book was the turkey sand wish book? >> guest: that's back in my first days. with my wife, she's not allowed me to be the animal that i used to become when i write, which is a good thing, so i try to be much more normal human being when i write a book now, but although she was with me through the fishings too, so she saw he at my worst. that was back writing the book "reaper," the one that was the tv movie fatal error. >> host: ben mezrich the guest, tom from new york city, tom, you're on the air. >> caller: how's it going? >> guest: excellent. >> caller: i'm a screen writer as well, and you seem like a very busy guy, so i wanted to
call and put you on the spot and ask i if could work for you? >> guest: yeah, i mean, i don't know what you would do. i have such a strange lifestyle and writing style, the idea of like, you know, i've seen other writers who have like people who work for them, and i'm like oh, i'm jealous, but then i think what would the person do? when i'm in my stories, i really go inside, and often it would be hard for someone else to do that or to find a way inside. >> host: what did you do your butler in vegas? >> guest: we didn't know what to do. we sent him out for food. you know, i would like to have someone work for me, but i have not figured out yet what the person would do and how i would do that. yeah, i mean, the other thing is i mean, people who want to break into writing, the best way to do it is just write. the thing about the business is it's really all about that great
project, and that's how you break in. you write one story that blows everyone's mind, and then a apart from that, there's no way to break in nowadays. you know, working for someone, and yen where that goes. >> host: have you started the next process and the process of writing the book? >> guest: there's a few ideas i'm researching. there's one that might be the next book, which i have done a fair amount of research for. there's a couple others i've done a little bit less research for that also could be the next book. i have not really focused on -- when that decision is made, i'm like, okay, 24 is the -- this is the next book, and then i dive in. i'm at a point now where i want to have the book deal everything set up before i dive in and having a kid, i don't dive in and then say i'm not writing it. i work on the research, and then i sell the book, and then i dive in and write it. yeah. i'm researching a few things, but not really -- there is one i think will be the next one, but
i don't know. >> host: is book money different from hollywood money? >> guest: i mean, it's different for different people i'm sure. money is money; right? i don't know. it's, you know, there's so many different types of deals. it's different with every book and different, the economy changes every year. the books, i mean, borders doesn't exist anymore; right? i don't know the numbers. for me and my career, book money is better than movie money, but there's been some good movie money situations too, but, you know, none of us are mark. it's a tough business. the book world is a tough business as you know. you know, i've been very fortunate to have books that have done well and movies that have been made, but i've had a career, you know, i had a crazy career. when i started out, i was 26. this is the part of the conversation where i ask my
parents not to be watching. i was 26, and i sold a bunch of books, and tv movies, and i made a lot of money, and then i went nearly a million dollars in debt, so i owed doing what? exactly. i have no major vices, i don't really drink, don't do drugs, and yet i ended a year nearly a million dollars in debt. i had $75,000 in credit card debt. i owed taxes about half a million close to $700,000 in taxes. i had bills -- i had an irs agent knowing me by name. that's not a good thing. that's the point in life where that's not good like you have to give us something. i mismanaged myself. i was like a sports figure who get paid a lot and thinks it will keep happening. this is what i would do. i woke up on wednesday and say i'm going to the airport. i went to the airport, no baggings, and i would buy a
first class take into ticket to somewhere like paris, fly there, book a hotel room for two weeks, a major suite in paris, went to new york and booked into the plaza for three weeks, and i just stayed there and had friends and then i went to l.a., lived at a hotel for a month, and the end of the year i realized when they pay you in books, they don't take taxes out, so at the end of the year, you just spent all your money, and you have no money to pay the taxes. i learned a good lesson in my mid-20s, and now i'm smarter now. i lived the ups and downs. i had, you know, the lights being turnedded off, and i couldn't pay -- i couldn't pay, and when i met the kids for bringing down the house, i had a stack of applications because i have in huge debt, no money coming in, i
owed money to everybody, and my books were bombing. all my fiction bombed. i mean, i don't think -- you know, one of the viewers has read any of my fiction; right? they just -- i was highly paid, but the books were not selling, and that's not a sustainable writing career, and then i met the mit kids, and it was life changes. one of the moments where this is a great story, wrote the book in six weeks in vegas. went to vegas, sold it, and i have never looked back, and so i was at that point. i was at the bottom, the bottom of the bottom. >> host: is this the first time your parents heard the story? >> guest: i don't know that they heard the details or if they are hearing it now. it's not a bad story. it had a good ending, and i learned a lot of valuable lessons. i don't know if i would have been the guy to write bringing down the house had i not lived like that. i was a crazy gambler. i without up $20,000 or down
$20, but i didn't have $20,000, and i'd be in debt to casinos $50,000, and you learn how vegas works. you have the hosts and that system. it's a crazy world, and when i met the kids making a living in vegas, i knew that world, those suites and how high rollers were treated. i was able to write the story. i like to look at it as life lessons learned. i knew about wall street and understood the stock market and things like that because i would gamble on them. i mean, i was, you know, i understood most of the world i wrote about before i wrote about it, and now i'm smarter and calmer, and i don't have to necessarily live like that, by the other thing is it allowed me to -- i befriend the people i write about because i'm one of them. when i went to tokyo for a month hanging out with ex-pat banker, and this is a world, i don't know if you know about that world, but it's crazy. american kids and british kids
in their early 20s getting paid lavish amounts of money to go to hong kong or tokyo, and they land there, and it's a free-for-all. they are treated like rock stars because they are white and american. not now like it was in the 1990s, but they were dating ten girls who all knew about each other but didn't care. that culture is different. they went to bizarre sex clubs and worked the next morning joking about it while making millions of dollars. it's a crazy world. i went to research ugly americans, i landed, and this huge limo picks us up. they flew the limo in from new york because they didn't like the ones in tokyo. we went straight to a concert, and because we were white people in a limo, people were trying to turn the car over. i didn't see a room for 24 hours.
there's no way to be the writer i wanted to be without understanding how to live like that. that's where i learned a lot, and i learned, you know, i learned a lot, and i fixed it all lucky. i'm not recommending this path to anybody. always pay your taxes and always, the credit cards are bad news. i would use one credit card to pay the next card and then a credit card to pay the rent and the checks they give you, never use because they charge like $2 billion percent interest, and i was using those to pay other people. you have to be careful with yourself, and when you timely figure out a system that works, you know, you start acting like an adult. >> host: elaine from cleveland, one hour left with our in-depth guest. go ahead. >> caller: well, thank you for taking my call. i was just on my way out to the library, and hearing your interview, i thought, well, i have to add all of your books to
my list. >> guest: thank you so much. >> caller: have you ever read a book and has it been researched to the fullest and did you feel you could do better? >> guest: good question. you know, more usually what happens with me is i read a book, and i wish they had come to me rather than writing it themselves. not because it's a bad book, but i feel i could have really dug into the book. there's been a few books like that where i wish i got that story first, but yeah not so much i read a book -- i read books saying, oh, this is not a great book, but i have not read books where i felt, oh, they didn't research it well enough. i'm trying to think -- i read a couple books -- what was the book that i last read, a non-fiction book -- no, you know. i'm more of a fan than a critic. i read the perfect storm, and i
read he spent years living there in a frozen -- i'm like that's amazing. i wish i could do that, but i couldn't do that, or the wolf of wall street was a book, and i wish he'd come to me, not because it's a bad book. it's a great book, but i would have loved to have written that book, and that's what's it like for me. >> host: she's going to the library, picking up your books, but if she just got one, what one do you recommend? >> guest: that's a tough one. sex on the moon is the one she might een joy the most. i think sex on the moon is the one now people are getting libraries and people love it. i think that one and bringing down the house are the two. ugly americans is, i think, maybe the best writing, but it's a darker story. you have to be -- you have to want to be interested in the banking world in asia to read that book. sex on the moon and bringing down the house.
those are the two. they exemplify my style. sex on the moon is how i'm writing now, and i think it is some of my best work, and then bringing down the house is sort of, you know, how i started and how it works for me. >> host: bud from oregon, go ahead with your question or comment. >> caller: hi, good morning, and thank you for booktv. mr. mezrich, i have to admit the being guilty of not reading you yet. i've seen a couple of your films, obviously. i will correct that mission sometime soon. you made a comment about gambling is good, and i can't disagree with you, but i want you to comment, if you wouldn't mind, on derivatives and the potential chaos that they can cause and having, quote, "investment vehicles" not linked to value, basically gambling chips, and is that something
that should be bringing down the economic system? do they leak derivatives. i'll get off the air now. thank you very much. my son is your age, and i identify with you in that way too. >> guest: oh, thank you. i appreciate the question. i want to preface this by i'm not an economist or that knowledgeable, and there's people diving into derivatives. i think the idea originally is not bad, they add liquidity, making the market movable, and there's a way -- you know, you can't -- with oil, for instance, this is so simple it's probably wrong, but you can't physically trade barrels of oil, so you have to have derivatives to trade oil otherwise it's impossible to set the price correctly. there's something between supply and demand. that's how i was explained to it. a lot of horrible things
happened on the other hand especially with the garbage derivatives and gamemanship with big banks. yeah, i think to an extreme these things are very bad, but i think my point more is that there's nothing inherently wrong, to me, with making money using your intelligence by gam ling on a system -- gambling on a system. going to wall street to make money off the stock market is not a bad thing in itself.. ..
>> guest: that's when things go wrong. so i don't know, i mean, i'm not -- i don't think i'm getting into the complexities of it, and i can't. someone else can do that. >> host: jackie, santa fe, california, you are on booktv. >> caller: hi, ben. um, i really enjoy your books, and i can see why they're fun to read, because you have -- >> guest: oh, thank you. >> caller: you have a great personality. my question is, um, as a young writer, um, how difficult was it for you to find an agent, or did you go that route or straight to publishers? >> guest: yeah. so i, i had -- i went every route. i graduated from college and knew i wanted to be a writer, so i locked myself in an apartment in boston, and i wrote, and i wrote, and i wrote. and i wrote nine novels in one year, so many thousands of pages. they were deep, dark stories that took place in bars in new york city because i was reading authors, and i thought that's what i want to be.
>> host: had you lived that bar in new york city life? >> guest: a little bit, but more watched it than lived it. couldn't sell anything, i got hundreds of rejection slips, i had them taped to all of my walls. i was even rejected by a janitor at an editing house because someone pulled it out of the garbage and read it and rejected me. rejection, rejection, rejection. i would send to editors, agents, anybody who had an address anywhere. and back then there wasn't really the internet. this was 1993. so i would go get those books, literary marketplace, and i'd just look up all the addresses and write letters to everybody, and i'd send manuscripts. i did everything, rejected by everybody. and then eventually i got a phone call from an editor at random house, john carp. we've now become a very big editor. >> host: jonathan karp. he's the head of simon & schuster now. >> guest: he is now. i've never published with him. he called me up and said i want to meet with you.
he was similar in age to me but was already a big up and coming editor. i sat down with him, and he said, i'm not going to publish any of the garbage that you're writing, but you write well, so go realize john grisham, and come back to me in a year. that's what he said to me. so i went home and read john english ham and michael crichton and robert ludlan, so then i wrote a medical thriller, and i wrote a query letter, and i managed to sign john grisham's agent at the time who was a guy named jay guerin who died. but he managed to sl my first -- sell my first book. and nobody read it. i wrote a few books, and nobody read them, and i wrote, and i wrote, and i wrote. but that's where it all started for me. some writers write one book ten times, i had to write ten books
before i sold my first book. i write like a maniac. so for me it was all volume. but, yeah, it was a process. graduated from college in '91, and my first book sold in '96. >> host: how'd you support yourself in those first years? >> guest: in a variety of ways. my parents, who were not thrilled when i first announced i wanted to be a writer, did support me for one year. and then i worked for a public service organization in boston, i wrote their brochures. i worked for alan dershowitz, i was a researcher for since months which was crazy, his world is crazy. >> host: why? >> guest: first of all, he's brilliant, and he handles these incredible cases. he gets 100 hate mail letters a day kind of thing, and it's a wild world. and it was just, you know, one of those -- i did odd jobs,
things like that. i barely supported myself. i mean, i was living -- in boston you can live very cheaply. my roommate was scott stossel who now runs the atlantic monthly magazine. he was my college roommate as well, so he's done very well with his own writing career. we were both two struggling writers. i think he was working at a bookstore, and we were both wannabe writers with our bottle of scotch on the table. it was that kind of scene. it was fun. and you know what from a i say to young writers all the time, that's the most romantic, fun time of your life. i know it seems like it's miserable because you can't sell anything, but that's the exciting time when you writing and sending and rejecting and rejecting. you have to live for the rejection. the rejection becomes your life. it's not like you're getting rejected in person. so i was getting, every week i would wait for the new rejections, and i put them all on the walls, literally taped them on the walls. there's nobody who dives into writing and doesn't get rejected.
so it was a fun, exciting time. but i got lucky -- >> host: are you and scott stossel still friends? >> guest: yeah, he's my best friend. he was best man at my wedding, i was best man at his wedding, and he's done great. he wrote "sarge," i think he's working on a new book, and the atlantic monthly, i think s a great magazine. it's a little bit too smart for me -- >> host: currently owned by david bradley, i believe? >> guest: i don't know. >> host: hope i'm right about that. well, scott stossel has sent a tweet to you. >> guest: oh, no. >> host: would ben ever con stent to doing a life debate with janet maslin or gay talese about the nature of, quote-unquote, nonfiction? >> guest: i would love to. i mean, both of them have called me out in a negative way because they don't like what i've done to nonfiction, they say, or my style of nonfiction. i think, i think that i would love to get on a stage and talk to them about it. i think that they are doing a
disservice to nonfiction by attempting to categorize it in such an old-fashioned way. i think that the great nonfiction books are the ones that read like movies, that read like thrillers. and i would classify books like "the perfect storm" and hunter s. thompson books like mine. i'm not as good as they are, but i feel like -- i would love to. if atlantic monthly wants to set it up, i'd be there in a second. i think it's a great thing to discuss. if you're clear in the beginning of your book what you're doing, i mean, i think that's important. if you're going to use a composite character or if you're going to use dialogue, you know, recreated dialogue, you have to say so. but once you've said so, i don't see what's wrong with that. i mean, listen, you know, it's as true as any biography of cleopatra, you know? you know, you sit down and read a biography of cleopatra who died how many years ago who we know nothing about, and yet you build the story.
and i think there's nothing wrong with that, so i would love to. >> host: and here is the author's note in the front of "sex on the moon," that mr. mezrich puts in his books: summer set county, new jersey, mark, you're on booktv on c-span2 talking with ben mezrich. >> caller: hello, sir. how you doing today? >> guest: excellent, thank you. >> caller: okay. you know, i woke up late today and turned on tv, and there you were. and you really surprised me, and i didn't realize who you were exactly. but now i do. and, but regarding, um, your comments and your thoughts on the stock exchange, um, it got me to thinking, and i'm very curious what you think about -- and it may be you're thinking about writing something about groupon -- and if you were to bet on groupon, which way would it be? >> guest: i mean, you know, groupon -- and i'll be honest, i
don't know a lot about groupon other than what i've read on the internet. when it first came out and people were talking to me about groupon, i thought it personally was -- i thought it was ridiculous. it's a coupon book, right? or it's everyone can buy something if everyone wants to buy it, and then it'll be cheap or. but at the same time, they've built, they've built themselves up so quickly, and yet they were making a lot of money, and they are making a lot of money. so there's that. i don't know enough about it to know where it's going to go. i feel like everyone, amazon's getting into it, everyone's getting into the same business so how does groupon stay relative and powerful with all these big monsters getting into the same game? i don't know. i don't know enough about it. it's funny, i have a lot of friends who are internet millionaires, close the billionaires, who start internet companies in their dorm rooms, this guy neil who started a company in his dorm room, he's 35 now, genius.
started three company companies, his new company is owned by google. he's my partner in crime. we go to vegas all the time. and i'm always saying to him, i don't understand at all what you do. i don't get it, but can i do it? [laughter] will you start a company with me? he's like, do you have any ideas? no, the internet. it's like that old simpsons episode where homer starts an internet company, and all these people are talking to him, and he's like, when do i get my money? it seems crazy. i thought pets.com was a great idea. i would have invested. i'm the worst person to talk about this stuff. i invest in the companies that go under the next day, literally. so i'm the worst person to ask about that. i don't get the internet, but i love it. i wish i could come up with an idea tomorrow, coupons, and make a billion dollars. there you go. it's more about the personalities to me. some of these guys go out there, and they've got so much energy, and people give them money. so there you go.
>> host: william in wisconsin, go ahead with your question or comment. >> caller: good afternoon, mr. mezrich. i really enjoyed "sex on the moon," and i really enjoyed "bringing down the house," and i'm looking forward to "ugly americans." it should be interesting. i had a philosophical question for you about what you referred to as the gambling idea in wall street. i took a beating on lehman brothers, and my pension took a beating in the financial collapse, and i was sold lehman as the idea was 157-year-old or rock-solid company, not a casino. and i'm guessing, you know, you say you like to gamble. i wouldn't imagine that you'd take your parents' retirement fund to vegas to go gambling with. so if you could speak to the idea that these guys aren't gambling with their own money, they're gambling with money of vulnerable people. i'm in my late 50s, and my retirement fund has been beaten up by this whole thing. i know you're a happy guy, but i
wonder you could respond to a serious question. >> guest: and i think it's a great question. you know what? i don't want to make it sound like people didn't get hurt. people have gotten hurt dramatically. i mean, it's a lot of horrible things went on. no question that lehman and aig, and i'm not an expert. all i know is what i read in michael lewis books really. [laughter] i feel like a lot of crimes were committed that haven't been prosecuted and that there were a lot of things done on wall street that went beyond the line of just trying to make money. that really crossed that line. and, you know, the problem is that, um, i guess in writing the books i've written i have never trusted company like a lehman just because they've been around. i know about these 26-year-old traders who bankrupt a bank. i, you know, it happens all the time, and it's happened many times in history, but it is scary, and it's sad what's gone on, the bear ney madoff -- bernie madoffs of the world who have taken advantage. there's not much i can say about
that other than that the people who did these things ought to be brought up on charges when they did thing that were illegal. but at the same time, the system itself isn't necessarily all rotten. there's just some rotten people in it. >> host: justin, millford, pennsylvania. you're on booktv. >> caller: hi, ben. thank you for answering this question. um, my question is, when "the social network" was released in 2010, were there things, were there aspects of the book that, i mean, off the film you belief weren't translated as well as you had envisioned when you were making the book? were things better? >> host: justin, could you repeat that last part, please? >> caller: um, were there things in "the social network" that you think weren't as translated when you envisioned the book or better while making the book? >> host: thanks, justin. >> guest: the movie was amazing. i remember sitting down in the theater, and the girl says to mark zuckerberg, dating you is
like dating a stairmaster. and i was like, this is great. talk about great writing, aaron sorkin is just so good. i thought they captured the book very well. i personally thought it was very close to the book. the scenes in the courtroom, the deposition scenes were new. aaron wrote those scenes. they weren't in the book. but all of the scenes that took place at harvard were directly from the book and i thought were very close to it, very accurate. and i thought it was wonderful. i mean, i was amazed at how well they captured, um, the henley scene what they're rowing, and the winklevosss are allowing, how do you feel -- rowing, how beautiful was that scene? the music was amazing, the soundtrack, nine inch nails -- >> host: did you get to know the actors at all? >> guest: you know, i went and met, you know, i met them all, got to hang out with justin timberlake a little bit, my wife enjoyed that. she loved him. jesse eisenberg is awesome, he's very much like mark zuckerberg to me, more like mark zuckerberg
that you want to hug. and i met them all. i got to have dinner with david fincher who's one of my idols, i thought "fight club" you know, before "the social network "was my favorite movie. it was a great experience, you know? no question about it. you dream as a writer to have a movie made like that of one of your books. and then the oscars, i mean, to get to go to the oscars and have aaron sorkin say your name, my cell phone exploded. i fell off my seat. he was a men. , you know? >> host: what's that? >> guest: you know, good for him, good for me. it was great. a great experience all around. but, um, no, there was nothing in that movie that i felt like i did not like. um, and you know what? as an author, i think i'm -- that's the luckiest thing to be able to say, right? because so many movies get made -- >> host: did you feel that way about $21"? >> guest: i loved "21."
it's different than the book. there's no darkness to it, it's visually incredible, and it's very -- it's aimed directly at 21-year-olds who want to go to vegas, and i think it was perfect in respect. that movie, i got to spend pretty much every day on set, and the actors were in boston, so they were in my apartment, and i got to know them very well because they were stuck in boston playing wii tennis. for all these l.a. people, they were miserable. so it was almost like having a little family for three months. and then in vegas, we were in vegas for a month at the planet hollywood. it was fun. it was crazy. i think at one point they band us from the set, the mit kids and me, because we were getting the actors too drunk to show up to their spot. [laughter] and then there's one quick story. my friend neil who i told you about, the internet million tear kid, he goes to vegas, and he went out for 48 straight hours. and it was fake blackjack area, and we were filming a scene.
so, you know, cameras are set up. he wanders on to the set, tries to order a jet at a blackjack set. and they have to stop filming, and the director comes over, and he's like, what are you doing? he's like, what do you mean? i can't get a drink. and he had to leave. so we had so much fun. the whole thing was just a party. and the movie was great, and it did great. number one for two weeks, three weeks, you can't beat that. >> host: ben, you mentioned early on in our conversation here on "in depth" that when you're writing the book, you're imagining the movie. >> guest: yes. i sit down with a movie in mind. and i won't start a book unless i can see a movie. i believe that the format, this is the way it should be. i feel like a book should be a movie if it can, and i want to read a book that reads like a movie. i grew up, you know, television movies, i'm a very visual person. so when i write the scenes, i'm imagining it which is why i turn off the lights, and i have the music playing, because i want to give into it andly us, and
writing becomes a conduit to show what i'm seeing. i'm not a literary writer. i'm a cinematic writer, and i like that description. you know, when i sat down with "sex on the moon," i was thinking about, you know, i was picturing the characters as actors. i don't have specific actors in mind because you know hollywood doesn't really work that way, and you can't pick somebody and say, okay, that's the actor. but i certain he see it -- certainly see it while i'm writing it. >> host: jill in pennsylvania, thanks for holding. >> caller: hi. aye been holding a while, so i think you kind of answered my question. >> guest: okay. >> caller: earlier you said you were a fiction writer whose books weren't really selling, and i don't understand how you could be well paid. >> guest: yeah, i don't think the publishers understand it either. [laughter] you know, what happened was -- >> host: jill, did you have any
more follow up you wanted to give to mr. mezrich before he answers that? >> caller: no. >> host: thanks, jill. >> guest: you know, i was 25, 26 and, basically, publishing was a different imagine than it was today. it was the mid '90s, and they were throwing big advances at new writers who they thought had the potential of becoming the next john grisham. i think there were a lot of reviews of my first book who said he's possibly the next john grisham or the next michael crichton or something like that, and that kind of spirited them to make offers that then the book didn't sell that well. and so i was still able to get the next book deal because there was still the potential. it's all about the potential. you know, when i sold "bringing down the house," my first nonfiction book, you know, the deals were dwindling, and it was the smallest deal i'd ever made. and it was this little book, and simon & schuster bought it and said the first printing's going to be 12,000 copies, and then it spent 63 weeks on the times
list. it came out of nowhere, and it was a very small advance. but my fiction were getting these huge advances and not selling. i mean, the industry was crazy back then. i remember, i mean, these stories are, you know, i came up with an idea, and i wrote a paragraph, and i faxed it to my agent, and within two hours i had a $400,000 offer. and it was an idea i came up with in the morning and had an offer by noon. and that just doesn't happen anymore. it's, like, the industry doesn't work that may anymore. maybe it does in hollywood. >> host: did you say yes? >> guest: of course. it was just crazy, and then i spent it all, and i'd go into debt and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. i was really stupid. i should have put it all in lehman brothers. [laughter] no, i'm kidding. you can never tell what's going to happen in the future. invest in yourself, right? isn't that what they say? is. >> host: next call is from joe in los angeles. >> caller: hi. really enjoy the interview, and i'd be first in line for the
debate with maslin. just want to ask you two questions. the first is getting back to "the social network," and -- >> guest: oh, i was unplugged. sorry, i was missing joe. >> host: just a minute, joe, we've got a technical problem. okay, go ahead, joe. >> guest: this technology. >> host: two questions, one about "social network." i think zuckerberg denied that he started facebook because of a breakup with a girlfriend, the beginning scene in the movie where he has a breakup with the girlfriend. was that factually accurate? and the second question is on your list of authors you said that you admired the two authors, um, britain ellis and jay -- i can't pronounce his last name be, you said for what they represented. i wanted to know exactly what you meant by that. thank you very much. >> guest: sure, great questions. first of all, about "the social network." so we have zuckerberg's blog from that night. he blogged as he hacked into harvard's computers and pulled
up every picture of girl on campus. we have his blog in which he describes this girl, it starts off erica, blank, is a bitch. and it goes from there. we know that he went on a date that didn't go well, that he was mad and that he wanted to get his mind off her, that's what he was talking about. the specifics of that relationship, i don't know. in this -- in my book, the opening scene in "social network" aaron wrote. i don't know what research he did separate from me. but we do know there was a girl, he went on a bad date, he gets home, and he hacks into the computers at harvard. those are actual and factual. so, i mean, there you go. what more do you need than that? mark said that he didn't start facebook to meet girls. come on. i interviewed a lot of people who knew mark in high school and college. i spent a lot of time with eduardo and that scene. these guys started facebook to meet girls. not necessarily to get laid, but because they had a lot of trouble talking to girls. these were not guys who were
surrounded by the cool kids on campus. they weren't able to go to these parties and walk up to a girl and say hi. these were guys who played dungeons and dragons, who played with their computer and wanted to find an easier way to make social relationships, and for him to sit there and deny that now, i understand as the ceo of a company you can't say that. remember in facebook he used to poke people? that was when it first started the whole idea was you poke a girl who you wanted to have sex with. these were things we know -- it's not that he started the company to meet girls necessarily, he started the company because he couldn't meet girls, you know? and as a geeky guy who went to college as well, i get that. that's why most people do everything, why you became a rock star because you couldn't meet girls. you become a writer because you couldn't meet girls. mark and eduardo created an internet company, and i don't know why that's so, you know, difficult to admit. [laughter] but the loftier reasons were, of course, there. he wanted to change the world.
but he was 19. let's be honest. when you were honest, were you thinking about making a more easy way for people to stay in touch with their families? do you think that's what 19-year-old guys are thinking about? so anyways, getting to the authors, um, they broke ground in such an amazing way, and i wanted to be them so badly. i wasn't, i was a child in the '80s, i was high school, but i wanted to be that writer to who, you know, from that point of view, the crazy kind of -- so alive and so vivid. and it was a form of writing that you today you don't do. it wouldn't even necessarily work today, but for that moment they were the two it writers, um, and they exemplified everything i wanted to be as a writer. and then i got older and realized i didn't want to do all that, or i would die if i did all that. but i think they represented something, um, that was amazing to me.
>> host: okay. e-mail from danya suc,er. many items in the screenplay are closer to mr. sorkin's life or imagination than to mr. zuckerberg's, like the girl who dumps him with whom he reconnected at the end? and she says that the zuckerberg to whom i refer is not mark zuckerberg, the proud son of dobbs ferry, new york. the one under discussion is with ton created by fincher and sorkin, not the real-live boy billionaire, and that's from a daily beast article. it's a little confusing, i know. >> guest: right. >> host: but then danya says she lives in eugene, oregon, and new york city and a graduate of amherst school of education. >> guest: it's a great question. the reality is, you know, i don't want to get into mark's personal life that much.
but the reality is when "the social network" and my book, "accidental billionaires" takes place, although he did know the girl he ended up being with, for the first six months they were just friends. they didn't start dating seriously until after the events of "the social network," and even then people say they were not that serious according to people i talk to, but they didn't become the item they are today and now i believe they're engaged, and it's wonderful, and that's all great. the reality is when he met eduardo, they were two guys who were not in serious relationships, they were guys looking for girls. the scene where they meet two girls and hook up with them in the basement, that was all word for word from eduardo who was there and other people also said that they were told that story. um, mark denies certain aspects of it. he never denied that specifically, that he hooked up with groupies in the basement of a bathroom. i don't know what his opinion of that is. it's tough. when you write a story like this, there are people who know nothing about the story but who
want to defend someone they perceive to need their defense, so they write articles saying this isn't true, mark this, mark's great. i didn't want say mark's not -- i didn't want say mark's not great. i think he's a genius. however, the element that i wrote about in the book did happen. they don't make him any less great, but he did hook up with a girl in a basement according to the sources i asked. he did go out sometimes, you know? there's nothing wrong with saying that. um, i don't know. i can't answer specifically about what sorkin's life is like, about the girlfriend. [laughter] i do think that having the girlfriend then come back at the end of the movie was a plot element that made the movie hold together. i assume, i don't know, i assume that scene at the end where he's trying to reconnect with the girl, i don't know where that came from. that's not in the book. that doesn't necessarily say that aaron didn't find it somewhere, but i'm not sure why that matters to anybody.
i mean, the facts of the story, that's not a fact of the story. i think the facts of the story are all very clear in the movie and seem very real to me. um, i don't think there's anything negative about mark in it. i think the idea, you know, that he and a couple guys were geeky and trying to meet girls, i just don't see how anyone can argue against that. i really don't. except for mark himself. but when he argues about it, it's not that he denies the things that happen in the story, he just says he has a girlfriend. i mean, you know? >> host: ruby in toledo, good afternoon to you. you're on "in depth" on booktv. >> caller: hey, hey, ben. >> guest: hey, how are you? >> caller: how's it going? >> guest: excellent. >> caller: really enjoying the interview. you are definitely holding our intention. you brought up eminem a couple of times in the interview. what is it about eminem that interests you? >> guest: i mean, that's a great
question. are you a big eminem fan? >> caller: yeah. like eminem. [laughter] >> guest: excellent. you know, i think when i'm writing certain types of scenes, you have to get your energy level up, so when i'm writing an active scene like a chase scene or a sex scene, something like that, i will drink two red bulls and then turn eminem on really loudly. you can't really breathe well, but you write really fast, and at the end, you know, you need to come alive when you're writing. i've actually lately been dictating into the dragon software, so i can talk and move around, and then i have to go back and refix it because the dragon software's not quite ready yet, so a lot of the words don't make sense. but, yeah, you know, you've got to get into the scenes. i'm a very active writer. i read somewhere that aaron sorkin broke his nose when writing a scene recently, and i'm like that. yeah, eminem, i think it gets your blood going. >> host: and once you have written that scene -- >> guest: yeah. >> host: -- when you go back,
how much editing -- >> guest: well, when i actually finish the book, the editor usually, you know, a great editor at doubleday who finds the things that i need to fix, um, but when, when i first sit down, i don't usually reedit myself much once i'm done with that chapter. i'll reread it a bunch of times and go fix and fix, but when i finish the chapter, i don't touch it again. and usually i finish the book, and i don't re-edit it at all, i hand it in, and then bill thomas is my editor, he's amazing, and he'll find things in it that i have to fix. but overall editing has become less and less -- i don't self-edit much, or at all. >> host: the stories of your research are so vivid, movie translations are great. have you ever thought of doing documentaries? >> guest: yeah. i mean, i want to do a week weekly documentary type show. i haven't ever thought of doing a one -- it's too much to spend years.
and the people who do it, you know, it's great that they can do that, but i personally could not spend three years on one subject to create a great documentary which is what you kind of need to do. but i like the idea of doing something on tv where i can go in and out of something very quickly and tell a story. so, yeah, i like the idea of documentary television. doing a long-form movie documentary to me, it would just, i would probably go crazy. >> host: we have about a half hour left with this month's "in depth" guest, ben mezrich. he is the author of six nonfiction book beginning in 2002, "bringing down the house." "ing i ugly americans came out in '05. "rigged,"2007. "the accidental billionaires came out in '09, and "sex on the moon" is his latest book. that just came out this year. neil in shaker heights, ohio, you're on book the. booktv. neil? >> caller: yeah.
i just wanted to say that i don't really think you should be using the word nonfiction for his books. i think they're non-nonfiction -- >> host: what does that mean, neil? >> caller: it means that the research isn't very careful, and there's lots of mistakes, and why doesn't he just call them fiction? i mean, you know, he can write thrillers and not make a claim that he can't really substantiate. >> host: could you give an example of what you think is not accurate? >> caller: you say that when zuckerberg started face match he crashed all the computers at harvard. it's just not true. >> host: well -- >> guest: he crashed his own computer. >> guest: okay. >> host: now, i mean, neil, where do you get your research? >> guest: my son was at harvard at the time. he started a web site that zuckerberg was aware of -- >> host: your son did? >> guest: r. >> caller: yes. that had numerous features of use to undergraduate students
start inside august of 2003 months before face mash or facebook. he met with zuckerberg before facebook went live, and zuckerberg visited his site which had a component which was called the facebook. this is all documented in my son's book called "authoritas." and all the documentation is available online. e-mails, server logs, documents, etc. >> host: okay. what's your son's name, neil, if people want to research this? >> caller: aaron greenspan. >> host: thank you, sir. >> guest: yeah, his son is mentioned in my book, actually. first, it's a crazy discussion, but, yes, the way it is in the book is correct. my books are nonfiction, and i am very accurate about what happened in the face mash incident. the computer servers were stopped, were crashed, i use the
word "crashed." mark's computer froze. i think we all know what it means when we say a computer crashed. and as it is in the book and the movie, that's exactly how it happened. the discussion about his son ended up suing facebook, i believe. i think there's some litigation going on. i don't know the details of it. >> host: people really care. >> guest: yeah. i mean, you know, this happened at college recently. it wasn't that long ago, so there were kids who were there. there's been a lot of lawsuits, not just eduardo and the winklevosss, there's that other big one, there's his kid about the name facebook. i don't remember how that worked out. i stand by the weeks. -- books. and, you know, the things that people point out, like, this is a perfect example of it. it's a person who has a personal beef with zuckerberg or with facebook, and they're bringing it out in the way they can in this conversation. it really has very little to do with my book. the fact that i say the computers crashed because his
computer froze, and the network slow today the point where -- slowed to the point where the person who ran the network had to come in just like it is in the movie, mark had to go in front of the ad board. how are you not saying that the computers crashed? i don't get where that is inaccurate. how, i mean, this is what always boggles my mind about the attack on my book. there's nothing inaccurate about that. and yet someone will say, well, the computers didn't crash. but the computers crashed. we know it crashed. he was called in front of the ad board. he almost got kicked out of school. that's how the winklevoss' saw him, so what are you arguing with? i don't get it. maybe you have a definition of what a computer crashing than i do. and it goes on and on like this. my books will get attacked, people say, it's not true, and you'll say, well, what's not true? and they'll point to some tiny thing on page 273 where something was blue instead of red. you can pick up any book in the world and turn to page 273 and
find something that was blue that was actually red. that's not what we men between we -- we mean when we say nonfiction and fiction. what we mean are the facts of the story correct or not. it's nonfiction if story is true. these are true stories. it would be inaccurate to call them fiction. if i published these as fictional thrillers, the audience would be losing something because they wouldn't realize that these are true stories. the only people who would benefit are the characters in the stories who don't want them told. right? the character who doesn't want this story told would benefit by it being called fiction. the character who does want it told is benefited by its being called nonfiction. i as a writer have to write the book as truthfully as i can, and the publisher has to decide whether they want to call it fiction or nonfiction. and that's really it. and me and my publisher sit down with my books, we vet every page. the lawyer edit is the largest eddy of my book. we sit there for hours going
through every page to make sure it's all, you know, we have documentation for it all. i mean, do we argue about what it means to crash a computer? if a computer screen freezes, is that a crashed computer? i think so. i mean -- [laughter] you know, you just can't go down this line of questioning. it just goes on and on, and you don't know where to go with it. >> host: john in orlando, you are on with ben mezrich. please, go ahead. >> caller: first of all, i'm enjoying the conversation, i'm a big nfl fan, i've graduated to c-span2, and i'm not going back to the nfl -- >> guest: oh, no. what about the pats/giants? >> guest: well, i'm a steelers fan, and we won last week against the giants. [laughter] i have the car keys in hands, and i'm getting ready to go get "ugly americans" because one of my friend's brothers was living in the far east at the time, and he was basically explaining what life was like while he was there, and he basically compared it to being a rock star or an nba player without having an talent.
[laughter] >> guest: there you go. >> caller: now, regarding the people protesting about your books being nonfiction, if you called them fiction, people would be protesting just as much saying it's about them. >> guest: yeah, you're right. you know, it's a funny discussion, and it keeps coming up, and i don't mind talking about it. the controversy is good. it's good for me, it's good for everybody to talk about what is fiction and nonfiction. i just think in the end, you know, people just have to realize that if you're open and honest about how you write, don't read it if you don't like it, you know? you know what you're getting into. i'm not trying to trick anybody. this is a true story, but it's written like a movie. if you have a problem with that, go read an encyclopedia. that's my opinion. i like the way i write, and i like to read books like this, and i think a lot of people agree with that. and, you know, you can pull open the book and turn to a page and find, you know, somebody describes his shirt as gray and maybe it was off gray. i'm sorry. but the reality is, this is a true story. >> host: we have about 20
minutes left with our guest, ben mezrich. milt in paradise, california, please, go ahead. >> caller: hi, thank you. i think some of the controversy about the fiction/nonfiction, i think it's ultimately jealousy. mark zuckerberg, people are jealous, and i think maybe some of that jealousy is directed towards the author. what do you think? >> guest: i mean, you know, it's interesting. i always, you know, no author really loves the critics of their books. no author really likes to read critique of their books, but i do think it's jealousy, but it's also, you know, there are a lot of journalists who are looking for, um, a story. and for a long time it was very easy to write a story about a nonfiction book that may or may not have true elements. and so it's very easy to write an article that gets printed in the newspaper if you can point out something wrong with a book. so i think that's where it all comes from, it comes from journal is looking for a story -- journalists looking for a story. i mean, all writers are jealous of each other. we're all jealous of each other.
we're all filled with envy. every time you read the newspaper about some big advance, you feel envious. it's part of our birthright. oh, that guy got a million dollars if that are? i hate him. but you don't really hate him. it's that whole feel. i don't know what it is specifically. i think that i have become a lightning brand for a certain form of writing. and the people will, you know, some people will hate it, and some people will like it. >> host: by the way, the pats/i giants game doesn't start until 4 this afternoon, so you'll be able to watch it. >> guest: great. >> host: just to recap, this feet is from max. before you became a writer, what had you been interested in or what did you want to be when you were youngsome. >> guest: yeah. i've wanted to be a writer since i was 12, so before that -- i don't remember much before that. i've really wanted to be a writer since i can remember. you know, i did dabble in, like, acting or the idea of movies and
things like that, but i've always wanted to write books. just, you know, my parents' love of books translated to my love of books, and i wanted to be earnest hemingway. i wanted to be one of my idols and do that. and as i got older, i wanted to be michael crichton very badly for many years because i loved his books, and i just wanted to write like that. and then i moved on and wanted to be sebastian younger without running around in afghanistan. [laughter] so i've wanted to be a writer since i was little. you have to decide that this is really what you want to do because it's very hard, and i don't mean that writing is hard, i mean breaking in is hard. it's a hard, hard business to make a living at. it's like the scene in the terminator where he's describing what a terminator is, and he absolutely will not stop until you die. that has to be about writing. this is all you're going to do, and somehow i'm going to break in. and that's the way i was since i was 12. >> host: just to follow that up,
marshall carper's tweet. i'm a young writer, published four books and am looking for a big break. what do i do, ben? >> guest: i mean, publishing four books is in itself phenomenal. i think the key is a story that translates well in a sentence. i think for me the key was that one sentence in bringing down the house, six mit kids who took vegas for millions. that was my subtitle. you want to know more. and the way television worked today, it's all a little sound bite. so if you can become that sound bite, next there's a book, you're going to have a big bestseller. but without that one sentence, you know, there's nothing to sell. and the movies work the same way. they've all got one sentence, you know? so you've got to come up with a story that can come down to one sentence that makes everyone want to read it. and even myself i still struggle with that. i'm like, i need that sentence. where's that snook so my advice to young writers is come up with a story that you can really
write that you have a personal connection to and that you could write it that no one else could write it and then enjoy it. and hopefully, you know, fight the good fight and go out there and try to sell it. >> host: we've got about 15015 minutes left to take -- 15 minutes left to take your calls. the next is alan in bellevue, nebraska. >> caller: hello. >> guest: hello. >> host: go ahead with your question or comment. >> caller: i was going through the channels and happened to turn on week tv which i enjoy very much on the weekends, and i just wanted to call to convey my observations and reactions to your program. mr. mezrich, your free spirit and your incredible focus, and you bring a wonderful boy minneapolis to booktv. and you can make up your own question for me to answer. i will read your books in the future. thank you. >> guest: oh, i appreciate that. [laughter] thank you very much. >> host: booktv is now buoyant. >> guest: i like being described as boy yafnlt i'm very full of
energy. >> host: and this is another topic we just mentioned in passing, but dorothy mollton from new york city, i have never heard of ben mezrich. i'm a woman well past a certain age. he's charming and delightful. best "in depth" i've seen, and i'm going to read his books. i'm curious, how old is he? >> guest: yeah. i look really young because i sleep in a hyper bollic chamber. not really. i live in a mall, basically. wego underground to get anywher. i can get from new york to boston without stepping outside, so i get paler and paler, and i don't age. i'm actually 42, so i know it's funny when i do book stuff, everyone thinks i'm, like, in my 20s, and i'm really -- i like that idea, but i'm starting to, you know, i'm old. i'm old. i'm, yeah, i'm 42. >> host: what were your grades like as harvard? >> guest: i think they were good. i was one of those students, i knew i wanted to be a writer, so
i took the easiest classes i could find. i took, i literally would follow the hockey team to whatever classes they would go to because i knew they knew the secrets. and my roommate scott and i who, i said, runs the atlantic monthly magazine, we would compete to see who could start our papers later and hand it in. we would have a paper due tuesday morning, and can it'd be mold night at midnight, and we would compete to see -- so we were, i did well, but i was very much -- i knew what i wanted to do, so what i wanted out of college was to be able to be a writer. so i took a lot of, like, theory and social theory, and my dad always makes fun of me because i took a class called caribbean cultures. it was a great class, you know, i was just interested in everything, and i wrote my thesis in pop culture on new kids on the block. >> host: what did that cost your parents a year? the. [laughter] >> guest: that's what my dad
always says. it cost them a lot probably. [laughter] you know what? i think the thing about college is it's a time to figure out what you're going to do, and if you figure it out, you've done better than the people who just study. because that's life. once you know what you really want to do in life, that's how you solve life. that's my real belief. now that i have a kid, and i'm trying to figure out things to say to him, figure out what you really, really want to do, and if you figure it out early enough, you're way ahead of everybody else. >> host: is it tanya that's your wife? >> guest: yes. she's a local fashion consultant in boston, and she started a fashion line with one of our earlier callers. it's a fashion line, ready-to-wear. she's a hot ticket. she's, you know, i'm very unfashionable, and she's super hot and always knows how to dress, so she's got this fashion line launching and doing very well. >> host: marie in boise, good afternoon. you're on booktv on c-span2.
sorry about that, marie, i forgot to punch the button. go ahead, marie. >> caller: oh. great interview. i wanted to make a comment, then i have a questionment in my writers' group we would call what you write creative nonfiction, that's what massey wrote when he wrote knicks las and -- nicholas and alexandra, and our school librarian had it cataloged under fiction. now, my question. and this concerns your whole life. what was your earliest childhood memory? thank you. >> host: marie, why do you ask that question? >> caller: oh, well, because the study is out that your earliest memories do change your life. do control your life. >> guest: wow. >> caller: let me give you an example. john sargent as a baby had a nursemaid who took him out every day -- [inaudible] , and he found a red cobblestone
in a building, and he fell in love with that. and every day he would make his nurse do, show him the red cobblestone. well, he became a genius with the paint brush, you know. so i'm studying this about people. i'd like to know. thank you. >> host: thank you for calling in, marie. >> guest: wow, that's great. >> host: creative nonfiction and earliest childhood memory. >> guest: well, yeah, i've got to think what my earliest childhood memory is. i don't remember a lot. you know, they come in like glimpses, you know, of what you remember. i'm trying -- well, creative nonfiction, i mean, i don't know what the categories are in bookstores. my books have always been nonfiction, you know, since i started writing nonfiction. sometimes i see it in the business section which i always think is kind of funny, and sometimes i see it in the gambling section. my books get moved all over the place. i do remember when "wringing down the house -- bringing down the house" came out, and the such a battle getting it out of
the gambling section. bookstores like to categorize things, and it's not really a book about gambling, although it takes place in casinos. yeah, i would say nonfiction. i wouldn't call it creative nonfiction unless we're talking about creative black tie and everybody wears a tuxedo. it's nonfiction. you could call it nonfiction. this whole debate, you know, you looked at the nonfiction bestseller list, and the number one book was "america: a fake history of the united states," by jon stewart. never one book on the bestseller book. it was a book of made-up facts, and no one has a problem with that being called nonfiction. and then i write a book that's all true but written in a cinematic way, and people want to writing articles about it. it's bizarre. but anyways, earliest memory, i'm trying to remember something really early -- >> host: well, you just think about that as we move on, and this is an e-mail from todd
margo. what does ben mezrich mean when he says he approaches nonfiction from the perspectiveover a thriller? perspective of a thriller? how does that impact the story? it implies he plays up something. >> guest: right. it's a great question. so when i go inside the story and i spend the month researching it, i try and find what the beats of that story are that matter to me and would matter in retelling that story. whenever you tell a story, you make decisions no matter what it is you're talking about. if you're going to talk about the invention of the telephone, there's a who, what, where, when, why. and how you order those things is important to how you tell that story. so when i want to order the story of "the social network," eduardo has come to me and told me this crazy story between him and mark. i get all the court documents, i interview everybody except for mark who won't talk to me. spend a lot of time talking to everyone who knows him, people at harvard, spent a lot of time getting the scene right, and then i decide what the beats of
that story are. and as a thriller what works to tell that story in a very exciting and phenomenal way. you could start that story anywhere, right? you could sit down and start with the millionth facebook user and then go back from there. you could start the story him having sex with a girl in the basement of a club. you could start the story with, you know, justin timberlake, sean parker getting caught with cocaine at a party. these are all facts, by the way. you know? but where you put them in the story is your decision as a writer. doesn't change the fact that they're facts. it doesn't change the elements of nonfiction. but every writer makes those decisions. so i make those decision as if i'm writing a thriller. how does this read like a thriller? these are the facts. and then you order them. i mean, there's nothing wrong with that. you make it as orderly and thrillerresque as you can within the framework of a true story.
>> host: this e-mail, ben, ever consider an autobiography? that might be the project you were looking for. that's from mike -- >> guest: you know, i have been getting a lot of that recently. i do a lot of speaking, and the stories are getting crazier and crazier with the things i've gotten into. i think i will write, i want to write, like, an entourage-y, sex in the city book of all of my incidents because, i mean, i've had people come to me, people who claimed they robbed the art museum in boston, and they had some really interesting evidence, and then i got too scared because i almost got killed. and things like that happen to me all the time. at some point -- i don't want to call it a memoir, but it would be, you know, yeah, the true story of all these different stories. >> host: another e-mail from cuba in new york, based on your statements regarding your beliefs on risk and gambling, you seem to believe that powerful players in the market are taking risk. i do not believe this is true, and i believe this is the root of all the problems which has
led to the occupy wall street movement as well as the tea party movement. >> guest: i mean, interesting. i think you're right in some respects. i think that there are elements in the market or very, very powerful people who -- rig is too strong a word, but certainly can game the system in directions nonpowerful people can't. yeah, i don't know. i don't know what to say about that. i don't have any inside information on wall street. on what's gone wrong and what's gone right. um, but, yeah. i mean, i think risk is the, it's the mechanism, you know? but your -- you're right, there are people who are above it. >> host: anthony in long island, you're on booktv. >> caller: thank you. mr. mezrich, it's an honor to speak with you. i'm very proud of you. i can only imagine how your parents must be. you're a very nice yes han. --
gentleman. i would ask you to comment on mark zuckerberg, basically, exposed everybody's lives to the corporations and has been made man of the year, and julian assange and bradley manning for exposing the the corruption in high levels of government have been made marked men if not national criminals. i mean, they're whistleblowers that are now being held, you know, to a high degree of persecution or prosecution by the authorities which they've exposed destroying our constitution. so i would just ask you to comment on that if you could. >> guest: great question. you know, it's, it's very interesting. zuckerberg and facebook, they really do believe that having your information public is a good thing. i think that mark, i believe that mark believes that a more open world is a better world. and they do profit on that. um, and a lot of people have called them to task for opening up our lives to corporations, but not, you know n a malicious
way. it's just that, you know, your information -- you're putting your information there. i think that's the one thing we all have to remember. they're not coming into your house and taking pictures of what's in your house. that's what google does. [laughter] they're basically asking you to use their site if you want, ask then you put your information -- and then you put your information there, and then that information is not as private maybe as you want it to be, but it's not necessarily all their fault. they do change the rules every now and then, and that's when things become bad. um, and then you're right, then the wikileaks, you know, publishes information that the goth doesn't want out there -- government doesn't want out there, and that's a little bit different. i don't know if i have a major comment on that. i think, i personally think that we are all to blame for what we put on our facebook page. i mean, really, you have to take some responsibility. if you put a photo of yourself drunk at a party and it ends up somewhere, it's not mark
zuckerberg's fault. if you, you know, you have to be more careful with what you put out there. >> host: sharon in chicago, we have got just about two minutes left. >> caller: hi. this is sharon greenspan from chicago, actually a suburb of chicago. i'm not related to the earlier -- [laughter] although i think that's pretty funny that i'm watching a show, and i hear my name. but that's the way it goes. um, i'm a retired attorney, um, but i teach a book club of suburban women in the northern suburbs of chicago. and as you were speaking, before i texted one of the other people in my book club who helps pick books, and we will probably do either the ugly americans or sex on the moon this coming year, especially since a number of these women, you know, have had their dealings with hedge funds, etc. so the ugly americans, i'm leaning towards. but the thing that i wanted to call in about the most is, ben,
you know, i'm sure your parents are totally excelling. i have a 20-year-old, and i only hope in another ten years she will succeed the way you've succeeded with yours -- >> host: sharon, what is -- >> guest: you don't know that? >> caller: that's why i called in. earlier you had asked ben what a men. was, and he didn't really answer you. >> host: okay, very quickly. you answer men, and ca vellic. >> caller: i'm going to ask ben to answer what a men, is. ca velling means that you're, like, bursting at the heart, you know? >> guest: got it. >> caller: like you watch your child or anybody, you are so proud when you're watching somebody do something incredible. for me, my kid's a singer. she's studying music education, and when i see her do an aria, i can't even explain what it feels
like. so that's ca velling. you're full at the heart. >> host: all right, sharon, thank you very much. and, ben, she wallets you to -- >> guest: yeah. i wish my mom would call in. the i think a men. is like a special person who does good. i think there's a specific definition that i don't have, but it's -- >> host: it's a positive thing? >> guest: yeah, it's a positive thing. it's someone who does something great for other people but also for themselves at the same time. i think. >> host: don e-mails in, did your success with nonfiction translate into success with your earlier fiction? have any of them been rereleased? >> guest: amazingly not. i wrote two books under the pen name holden scott -- >> host: where'd you come up with that? >> guest: that was my ideal dream non-ethnic dream. [laughter] it's really lame. but, you know, i had written two thrillers which i think, actually, were really good books, and i have thought about rereleasing them as pic. i would like to get back into fiction. but i don't know if people could
even find my fiction. it was years ago, ever since bringing down the house, i've been known as a nonfiction guy. >> host: and just again to recap, kirsten tweets in, who are some of your favorite authors and what are you reading now? >> guest: well, i am still reading the game of thrones, five books. i'm on book four. he's great. my favorite authors were definitely michael crichton, i thought he was great. i love, god, there's so many now. intas yang younger. be. >> host: you've also listed ray bradbury, hunter s. thompson, ernest hemingway. >> guest: that's a good list right there. >> host: yeah. ben mezrich has been our guest on "in depth" for the past three hours. we appreciate your time. >> guest: thank you very much. it's been fun. >> host: once again, ben mezrich's "bringing down the house," 2002. ugly american, busting vegas, rigged in '07.